McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh wasn't pulling his punches when asked for an assessment of the team's first day of action in the 2013 F1 world championship in Melbourne, Australia.

"It was one of the hardest days I can recall," Whitmarsh admitted after the two Friday free practice sessions at Albert Park. "We were lacking overall grip. We had understeer, poor ride.

"A very difficult day, one where we didn't go forward during the day, so that's a bit of a concern," he added. "There is a lot we still need to learn about this car. But we have struggled frankly to quite understand how it is performing - understanding the tyres and the car."

The team's lead driver Jenson Button said that he agreed with Whitmarsh. "I think there is a lot of work to do, he said. "We've got to really work to understand why the car is the way it is in terms of ride and downforce."

Whitmarsh tried to put the obvious disappointment behind him, and looked for the silver lining to the thunder clouds gathering over his head.

"Having said that, we've collected a lot of data, and we'll be working extremely hard this evening and tonight in an effort to utilise that data in order to do whatever we can to effect improvements," he said.

"Moreover, you don't win world championships in the first Grand Prix of the year," he pointed out. "You win world championships by managing the progressive development of your car from its baseline in Australia in March all the way through its development journey towards its final destination, Brazil in November.

Sporting director Sam Michael admitted that the team was paying the price for an ambitious approach to the 2013 car, with the MP4-28 being one of the few cars on this years grid to go for a 'revolutionary' change on its predecessor, while the watchword of most of their rivals had been 'evolutionary'.

"Definitely, we are not where we need to be at this point in time," said Michael. "We made quite a few changes to the car over the winter, and we still believe they will be good for the course of the season.

"But we are still unoptimised in the areas we need to be, which comes from our own knowledge of where they are not as good as what they should be," he continued. "So we still have some work to do on the car, but it's a long season."

"We took the decision to make a lot of changes and knew that to some extent that would put us back a little bit, but we were hoping to get on top of that before the first race," agreed Whitmarsh. "As of today, we are still undoubtedly struggling. That is something we need to gather good information on and work through it this weekend.

"As I said a couple of weeks ago, our car is complex," he said. "Perhaps we haven't yet worked out how best to harness its potential, but we believe that potential is there."

Whether that potential can be tapped in time to salvage the Australian Grand Prix for them should come clear tomorrow when the teams head into the first qualifying session of the year.