McLaren has revealed that, contrary to its own expectations, it will be working on a raft of technical updates for its MP4-23 package ahead of next month's season finale at Interlagos as it bids to wrest both F1 world titles from old rival Ferrari.
The Scuderia's failure to add to its points tally at last weekend's inaugural Singapore Grand Prix has allowed McLaren to finally close the once-commanding gap between the teams in the constructors' championship. With Lewis Hamilton also extending his individual advantage over Felipe Massa to seven points, the Woking team is now in the driving seat in both sets of standings, but knows that, in the constructors' battle especially, things are far from over.
As a result, development work has been ongoing at its impressive technical centre in the UK to wring one final performance jump out of the MP4-23, even though the team is hard at work on the design and build of its 2009 challenger which, of course, will be running to a heavily revised set of regulations.
"Ordinarily, the Singapore weekend would have been our last big upgrade package of the season," McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh revealed in the wake of Hamilton's third place in F1's first night race, "But we've now got an upgrade package focused on Brazil, and will be looking to see whether we can pull any of those improvements forwards. There will still be little bits and pieces brought to the car for the two Asian races, but the package of upgrades won't be as big as the one we brought to Singapore."
The inaugural Singapore event proved to be a bigger challenge than many teams expected, not only because the entire travelling party had to get used to the unusual weekend schedule - which meant attempting to remain on European time despite the seven-hour time difference - but because the Marina Bay circuit turned out to be tougher than anticipated.
"The bumps were a factor that caught everybody by surprise," Whitmarsh admitted, "Before we arrived for the race weekend, we sent people there to do an accurate survey of the track surface for use in our pre-race engineering work. Inevitably, with a new circuit, the track surface evolves and the asphalt settles - a factor that we either didn't measure or that developed after we'd done our survey.
"Otherwise, everything worked amazingly well. Both drivers were incredibly dedicated - and the team that set their schedule up, led by Aki Hintsa, put a lot of work into it. But it was quite a bizarre experience. I went back to the hotel after the sessions, had something to eat and then sat with our drivers until 4am. You left them to go to bed and they would be putting on a movie - it was quite a strange feeling, but it worked very well."
While the street circuit received a generally warm welcome, there were changes that either had to be made during the weekend - including the removal of some brutal corner-cutting deterrents - or will be suggested before the circus returns in 2009.
"The bumps were the most unexpected element of the weekend, but we also need to look more closely at the pit-lane exit and entrance," Whitmarsh commented, "I think the race organisers will probably have to extend the entrance and exit for next year, moving them further away from the apices of corners. I'm sure that will be changed.
"However, in terms of ambience, facility and backdrop, it was just fantastic. Clearly, this has been a learning year and the organisers will have spent a lot of time overcoming the unique difficulties of attempting to put a racetrack into a metropolis, but we've seen Monaco evolve over many years and I can see the Singapore Grand Prix becoming our 'Monaco of the East'.
"The commitment of the Singaporean government and the race organisers has created an enormous amount of goodwill and that will only be reflected by the teams, who will really want to make this venue work."