McLaren test and reserve driver Gary Paffett says he is hopeful that the team can close the gap to Red Bull on the back of Lewis Hamilton's victory in the Chinese Grand Prix.
Victory in Shanghai capped a dramatic turnaround for the team after a difficult pre-season, where the MP4-26 struggled for both pace and reliability.
However, hard work from the team and a change in approach with the exhaust system fitted to the car saw both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button closer to the pace when the season started in Australia.
Speaking to GPUpdate
, Paffett insisted that the upturn in performance had been largely down to hard work from the team back at its Woking-base and that the car has always been one that had the potential to run at the front.
“It's certainly become a talking point and the real important point of an F1 car these days is your blown diffuser and what you do with your exhausts,” he said. “We had a few different versions over the winter; one which we ran in pre-season testing, which didn't really work, so we sort of changed things at the last minute and went with an option which seemed to give us a lot more performance. We found it in the wind tunnel, we found it in the simulator, it went and delivered on the track in Melbourne and we've been refining that ever since.
“It's just a lot of hard work, really. I've always thought from the start that the car is good, fundamentally good, but we were just missing something in testing which we now seem to have found. We're not there yet, we've still got work to do to catch the Red Bulls, but we're a lot closer than people thought we were going to be in Melbourne.
“Yes, it's been an amazing turnaround since winter testing and I think everybody in the team is just happy with how things are going. We've already had our first win of the year and it's nice to get that in the bag so early on.”
Paffett added that the team now needs to work on further development of its package to really challenge Red Bull for outright speed, with Sebastian Vettel having taken pole for each race so far this season.
“It's just general development now,” he said. “We've made the big step to where we are now from where we were – we were quite a long way behind and we've made a big step forward. Now it's a case of chipping away at it, trying to make some more improvements.
“We've shown, certainly in 2009, the rate of improvement that we can get during the year in comparison with other people; I think we're very good at that as a team, improving the car during the season. So hopefully we can just start chipping away.
“The exhaust and floor package which we introduced in Melbourne was last minute - it was the first time it had run on the car and was far from being refined. So we, and everyone else I guess, have got a lot of work around that area to try and maximise that. There are updates coming and hopefully they can deliver and get us closer to the qualifying pace of the Red Bulls.”