After crossing the finish line a lap down and outside of the points in the Spanish Grand Prix, reigning Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton admitted that the McLaren-Mercedes MP4-24 is currently 'that bad' that there is 'no hope' of him even contemplating successfully defending his hard-fought drivers' crown in 2009.

Hamilton has just nine points on the board so far this season - 32 fewer than compatriot and Brawn GP world championship leader Jenson Button, and 19 fewer than he himself had at the same juncture last year en route to the laurels - and whilst he at one stage looked like adding to that tally in Barcelona, chronic tyre wear issues meant that ultimately it was not to be.

After starting a lowly 14th, a bold move on the grass along the pit straight when the lights went out failed to gain the 24-year-old any places, but it at least potentially saved him from getting caught up in the carnage ahead through turn two just moments later. Running as high as sixth during a long first stint gave cause for optimism, but a dire lack of grip from his second set of 'option' tyres in the middle of the race would prove to be Hamilton's undoing.

That precipitated an earlier-than-anticipated switch to the 'prime' rubber on lap 49 of 66, but by then the damage was done, and all the Stevenage-born ace could focus his attentions on in the closing stages was fending off the challenge of the Toyota of Timo Glock behind, something he succeeded in doing all the way to the chequered flag.

"Today was a difficult race for me because we lack the downforce of the top cars," the nine-time grand prix-winner mused. "I was a bit worried about my tyres after driving over so much debris at the first corner, but I came out of it okay. It was a tough, long race and it was incredibly hard to keep the car on the road - it felt like driving on ice at times, especially at the end of the second stint when the tyres were finished, and in the final stint when there was very little grip on the 'prime'.

"I gave it 100 per cent for the entire race so ninth place doesn't feel like proper reward for the team, who worked hard all weekend. Still, we're all hopeful that Monaco will be a better race for us, because the absence of fast corners shouldn't hurt us as much as it did here. I'm not even thinking about [the championship], though; we are not even halfway through the season yet.

"For sure at the moment I don't have a car to win the championship, which is a shame because the team have done a fantastic job. They are doing a fantastic job every weekend, and the reliability has been great. The morale inside the team is fantastic too; it's just a shame I've not been given a car with which I can defend the championship. I'm driving the socks off it, but the car is that bad. There's just no hope."

Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen's challenge, by contrast, was short but sweet, the Finn being one of the key beneficiaries of the opening lap chaos to gain six spots to eleventh place - ahead of Hamilton - but his bright start would come to nothing less than ten laps in when he suffered a recurrence of the gearbox problem that had similarly hampered him in Friday practice, losing fifth, sixth and seventh gears in quick succession and having no choice but to trundle into his third retirement from the first five races.

"Luck just doesn't seem to be going my way right now," rued the 27-year-old. "It's been a difficult weekend - the car's performance is not where we want it to be and this was tough for us all - but that's life. We shouldn't forget, though, that we've improved our car massively since we last tested here in the winter and eventually we'll be fighting with Jenson and the other guys at the front. I'm already looking ahead to Monaco, where I'll be fighting harder than ever. I'm not going to let this get me down."

Indeed, McLaren is hoping for a significantly better showing around the winding, tortuous streets of the glamorous Principality - where it has in the past triumphed on a record-breaking 15 occasions, six times more than any other team in F1 history. The Woking-based outfit always knew the fast corners of the Circuit de Catalunya would expose its car's inherent weaknesses - but Martin Whitmarsh is optimistic that improvements are already showing.

"Lewis made a great start off the line," the Englishman contended, "but, after having been obstructed by another car, through no fault of his own he lost time avoiding an accident and ended up at the back of the field at the end of lap one. After that, his task was always going to be a tough one, because the Barcelona circuit is not an easy one on which to overtake.

"Furthermore, his tyres went off during his second stint, and then he got pipped by Fernando [Alonso] when they made their second pit-stops. He kept pushing as hard as he could, though, in ninth place, in the hope that one of the cars ahead of him would drop out and thereby allow him to score one hard-earned championship point. It didn't happen, unfortunately, but the fact that Lewis never gave up demonstrates just what a competitive individual he is. Heikki made a decent start, but his race was ended disappointingly - and unluckily - by a gearbox failure.

"We predicted that this race would be a low point of our season, and we've been proved right. In two weeks' time in Monaco - which is a very different kind of circuit from Barcelona - things ought to be significantly better for us, but we know we aren't yet where we want to be, and we'll continue to work flat-out to get there."

"We knew since testing here what to expect from our car on this racetrack," added Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. "Being lapped here is not what Lewis deserves; he delivered everything that was possible with his car today - we just cannot handle the high-speed corners and need to dramatically improve over the next weeks and months. Thank God the Brawn guys saved our bacon again with our engine in the back. Congratulations Jenson, Rubens [Barrichello], Ross [Brawn] and the whole team - you guys have been the benchmark since the season started."



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