McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh says the team is looking to 'surprise' people in the opening round of the new F1 season in Melbourne next weekend after conceding that his team go into the first race of 2011 as anything but favourites for victory.

Both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have struggled for both pace and reliability with the new MP4-26 since it made its first appearance on track in the second pre-season test of the year at Jerez.

With the reliability problems meaning that the team has been unable to complete as much pre-season running as planned, Hamilton and Button head to Albert Park on the back foot somewhat but Whitmarsh insisted that the team had worked hard to resolve the problems it has faced thus far.

"Over the winter, we set ourselves some extremely ambitious performance targets for MP4-26," Whitmarsh insisted. "Vodafone McLaren Mercedes are an uncompromising team and, as with every car we build, we tend to push development to the limit.

"In some cases, we've pushed over those limits, and the resulting lack of mileage has invariably eaten into our pre-season preparation.

"However, it's called testing for a reason - and testing MP4-26 beyond its limit has, in some ways, been highly instructive. In actual fact, we've gathered a huge amount of useful data about the car, its handling characteristics and its management of the tyres. So while we've further fine-tuned the package for Melbourne, we've once again set ourselves some extremely tough targets for this opening race weekend."

Whitmarsh added that the pace shown so far wasn't representative of the potential of the package and said the team was seeking to surprise those who have written off their chances before a wheel is turned in anger.

"Do I think our testing pace is representative of the pace we'll show in Australia? No," he said. "Do I think we head into the weekend as race favourites? Unfortunately, no. But do I feel that we have the capacity to surprise a few people and be competitive? Very much so.

"As with everything we do at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, we never give up: we're fighters - that's the spirit that has won us 20 world championships in the past and which makes us a team you can never under-estimate."

Whitmarsh's comments come on the back of a report in the German media suggesting that the MP4-26 has been the least reliable car during testing - aside from the Hispania F111 that has yet to turn a wheel [See separate story HERE].



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