McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe has revealed that the team's pre-season was the worst he has experienced in 20 years with the Woking-based outfit.

The team endured a torrid time during testing in Spain as it struggled to find either pace of reliability with the new MP4-26, with a complex exhaust system amongst the things that proved to be problematic.

The decision to drop the exhaust system proved to be the catalyst for a turnaround in fortunes that came to a head when Lewis Hamilton took victory in the Chinese Grand Prix and Lowe said the situation the team had found itself in was the worst he could remember - even compared to 2009 when McLaren started the year well off the pace of its rivals.

"This was even worse, because then the problem was merely performance," he told Gazzetta dello Sport. "At the final (2011 Barcelona) test the new items didn't work and the car was unreliable."

Lowe admitted that he was 'hugely relieved' when the performance of the car with its revised exhaust was vastly improved with Hamilton able to take a podium finish in the first race of the year.

Jenson Button then clinched a podium finish himself in Malaysia before Hamilton's success in China, which leaves the McLaren drivers second and third in the drivers' championship and the team second in the constructors' title race.

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