McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has dismissed suggestions that, with back-to-back wins from the last three grands prix, the Woking squad must be the new favourite for the constructors' title - but insists that speculation over Lewis Hamilton's future will not distract it from chasing the crown.
Victories for Hamilton in Hungary and Italy sandwiched one for team-mate Jenson Button
in Belgium and helped McLaren
close to within 29 points of overall leader Red Bull
Racing with seven races remaining. However, despite the momentum - and both cars appearing strong again in practice on the streets of Singapore - Whitmarsh insisted that nothing could be taken for granted, particularly as McLaren
appeared to be the dominant force over the opening few rounds of the season, before slipping behind its rivals in terms of performance.
"I think you've got to be cautious," he told journalists on Friday evening, "I think we were firm favourites going into the season, we were firm favourites coming out of Australia, [but] it can change. I think we're very pleased that the last three events have been on very different circuits and we've been competitive at all of them, [but] I think we're cautious here. Hopefully, we can be competitive."
A series of pit-lane mishaps contrived to rob both McLaren
drivers of better results early in the season, although Button claimed the opening race in Australia and finished second in round three, behind Nico Rosberg, in China. Hamilton's season, despite generally being the fastest driver in qualifying, started with three straight third places, but the Briton did not win until round seven in Canada, by which time Fernando Alonso
was establishing himself at the top of the individual standings and Red Bull
- with Sebastian Vettel
and Mark Webber
both winning in the first six races - taking control of the teams' table.
"What we haven't done is just pile in the points that we should have done, given the competitiveness of our car," Whitmarsh conceded, "I think, after twelve or 13 races, we've been on the front row eleven times. We've clearly got a strong package and therefore we should be disappointed in the number of points that we don't have, rather than the points that we do have.
"But you don't look back, you look forward. I think we've got quite a good development momentum, so we're making the car quicker. I think we've got two great racing drivers who are very much focused on trying to win races and other things, so we're hopeful that we can get a result here and keep the pressure on. You've got to say that Fernando's done a great job to be where he is, and that's going to take some effort to overhaul, but it's certainly do-able and we're going to keep pushing as hard as we can."
Whitmarsh's claim that his drivers 'are very much focused on trying to win races and other things' may not have been entirely intentional, but certainly laid him open to further questions regarding Hamilton's contract situation. The 2008 champion is back up into second in the standings, but remains at the centre of speculation that he may be on his way to Mercedes for 2013, although Whitmarsh insists that the situation will not deflect the team's attention away from the job in hand.
"I think, over the last three races, we've got stronger and more focused," he claimed, "I think anyone who knows Lewis and witnessed Lewis last weekend [in Italy] - and actually also this weekend - would say he's very, very focused on doing the job. I think he realises that, this year, we have a strong opportunity to win a world championship, and I think we all
realise that the right thing to do is focus and improve the car, don't make mistakes and maximise the points you can get from each race. I think that's what we're very much focused on."
Whitmarsh again denied that McLaren
had started making alternative plans in the event that Hamilton is tempted away by the better offer thought to be on the table at Brackley