Norbert Haug has confirmed what many paddock observers have suspected since pre-season Formula 1 testing got underway ahead of the forthcoming 2009 campaign - expected title challengers McLaren-Mercedes are simply 'far too slow'.

The new MP4-24 has languished in the lower reaches of the timesheets on virtually every test day so far, whether it has been in the hands of test driver Pedro de la Rosa, Hungarian Grand Prix winner Heikki Kovalainen or defending world champion Lewis Hamilton - prompting former McLaren driver and Renault's double title-winner Fernando Alonso to claim that 'they have been testing with both [race] drivers and have not done very well'.

There are suggestions that the team is struggling most notably on the aerodynamic front, with the diffuser and rear wing understood to be the weakest links. For much of the winter, indeed, the Woking-based outfit has run with the 2008-spec rear wing whilst its rivals have developed the 2009 package.

Though McLaren Group chairman Ron Dennis has put a brave face on the squad's struggles - insisting that 'we expect to maintain our pace to allow us to win the world championship' [see separate story - click here] - Haug has now conceded that these are worrying times.

"We are far too slow at the moment," the Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, "but [we] are going to work hard to get back to the front."

It is understood, however, that the chief problem has now been identified and can be fixed before the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in just a fortnight's time, and Ferrari star Felipe Massa - who fought Hamilton tooth-and-nail for the drivers' crown last season, ultimately being pipped agonisingly to the laurels in front of his adoring home supporters in the final race in Brazil - agrees with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen that it would be unwise to write McLaren off too soon.

"They still can improve," the S?o Paulista underlined, "and they have another test that we don't have so they can find what is wrong, what is not working.

"For sure it is surprising to see McLaren behind, but we need to respect and wait for the first race of the season to have a clear idea about that."

 

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