Former Williams chief engineer Mark Gillan does not see McLaren being a factor at the very front of the F1 field until the first European races at the earliest.
Having studied the form of the MP4-28 over the opening two rounds in Australia and Malaysia, where a ninth place apiece for Jenson Button and Sergio Perez stand as the team's best results, Gillan believes that the car's problems are more deep-seated than merely aerodynamics, and claims that it could be as late as Canada in June before any change of fortune is detected.
“I was surprised at how slow they were at the beginning of the season,” he told the JA on F1
podcast, “They've had a couple of poor starts [before], but typically get it sorted.
“The fact they are obviously concerned about the development, and how quickly they can improve things, probably means the problems are down to suspension and the pick-up points into the chassis which are quite difficult to change quickly.
“If it was just purely aerodynamic changes, I'd expect them to deal with it within a race or two, [but] it's probably going to take them quite a while.”
Ironically, wrongly fitting a suspension part during the season's first test at Jerez was attributed as the cause of Button topping the times and giving McLaren early cause for optimism but, with the unintended settings unable to run on more conventional circuits, especially under full fuel conditions, the team has struggled to replicate the performance as it suffers with ride problems.
McLaren was already on the back foot, having opted to design a fresh successor to last year's MP4-27, widely regarded to be the fastest car in the field by Interlagos, instead of coming up with an evolution as the likes of Red Bull and Lotus did.
The Woking team still believes that there is a higher ceiling for the development of the 2013 machine than its rivals will find with theirs, but the timescale for its exploitation may now be elongated, with the back-to-back Chinese and Bahrain grands prix mitigating against development before the season heads into Europe, and Spain, next month. Should a new chassis need to be built up to accept a revised suspension system, the delay could stretch through to Montreal.