Less than a week away from the F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix, Martin Whitmarsh has revealed that McLaren-Mercedes has taken 'a risk' in effecting some 'dramatic changes' to its unreliable and underperforming MP4-26 - admitting that the extra fortnight's preparation time following the cancellation of Bahrain could prove to be 'crucial' to rescuing the team's ailing title chances.

Of all the cars that have run during pre-season testing, it is McLaren's new baby that has completed the fewest kilometres - and less than half the total tallied by arch-rival Ferrari [see separate story - click here] - with persistent problems frustratingly stymying the efforts of drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button to unlock the MP4-26's full potential.

That has left the all-British duo conceding that they are unlikely to be doing battle for the top step of the podium anytime soon and acknowledging that their chances of adding to their 2008 and 2009 world championship crowns respectively are slim.

Drastic times do, as they say, however, call for drastic measures, and whilst still forecasting a 'challenging weekend' Down Under around the streets of Melbourne's Albert Park, McLaren team principal Whitmarsh has disclosed that the Woking-based outfit has introduced a completely redesigned floor and exhaust system in an effort to remedy its unenviable situation, reflecting that the additional days afforded by the loss of Bahrain earlier this month 'could be very crucial'.

"I personally wasn't satisfied with where the car was either reliability or performance-wise in testing," the Englishman told a special pre-season Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes Phone-In Session, before adding bluntly: "We just weren't quick enough.

"Some of the [rule change-inspired innovations] caused us too much unreliability this year, and perhaps were not delivering the performance they should have done - but we have reacted to that. We have made some fairly dramatic changes to the car, which you will see in Australia.

"There is, of course, some risk involved in that, but we are hopeful the risk comes off and the car is a lot more competitive. When you take risks, sometimes they pay off in terms of performance and reliability, and sometimes they don't - but we think it was the right thing to do. If it pays dividends, the extra time will have been very crucial indeed; if it doesn't, I will have to put my hand up.

"I think fundamentally, it isn't a bad car. We had some very creative ideas, some of which could have worked spectacularly well, but they have to be sufficiently durable to be raceable, and frankly, some of our solutions were not. We had to go back a bit, which obviously isn't what we like to do after all that testing, but in doing so we found some more interesting things.

"I believe we need to unlock [the MP4-26's] exhaust-blowing potential. The exhaust systems have become quite a lot more extreme on quite a lot of the cars - and I think we in particular had some very extreme solutions. They were not delivering, in my opinion, sufficient benefits for their complexity. Our exhaust system looks simpler now.

"There are no secrets in this; we've just got to make the car significantly quicker, and as quickly as we can - and that's what we are aiming to do. It's a long season ahead of us, and we are going to seek to be as competitive as we can be in Australia and in the races that follow.

"It's very difficult to judge competitiveness, but the changes we have implemented are aimed at making the car over a second quicker than it was in the tests - the target certainly is to deliver more than a second in performance. At the moment, it's too difficult to make any predictions, but we always have the target of going to win the race."

Whitmarsh added that he has 'been to the first race with the quickest car, and I've been to the first race with one of the slowest cars in the past', but he refused to be drawn upon just where McLaren would likely have shaken out in the pecking order without the extra preparation time that has enabled the team to alter its MP4-26 so substantially, reasoning that the new Pirelli tyres and the return of KERS have rendered it more difficult than ever this winter to accurately gauge relative speed.

What the 52-year-old was keen to stress, however, is that contrary to some pre-season predictions, he fully expects the harmonious relationship struck up between countrymen Hamilton and Button last year to persist into 2011, regardless of whether one or both of the pair find themselves in the reckoning for title glory again.

"I think we've got two great world champions, and two great racing drivers," he asserted. "They definitely want to beat each other and all the other drivers - that's extremely healthy and normal, and that was the case last year. This time last year, people were speculating that there would be lots of difficulties, but they have tremendous respect for each other, have an understanding and genuinely like each other.

"I've always been completely open with both of them. We let them race [in 2010] even down to the end of the season in Abu Dhabi. Before the grand prix there, I told Jenson he was entitled to race, even though Lewis was in contention for the championship. I think they both respect the way in which we have been fair and open with them, and I don't foresee any problems this year with the relationship between our two drivers."



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