Adrian Newey claims the reason his former employer McLaren-Mercedes was able to take such a substantial step forward in performance between winter testing and the F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne last weekend was because the Woking-based outfit copied Red Bull Racing's exhaust.

Whilst Red Bull - and Sebastian Vettel in particular - thoroughly dominated proceedings Down Under as had been anticipated, that McLaren star Lewis Hamilton was the young German's closest challenger was a real surprise. The MP4-26 had struggled woefully during pre-season testing, languishing some way shy of the leading pace and grappling with all manner of reliability woes to-boot.

That prompted what team principal Martin Whitmarsh described as 'some fairly dramatic changes' [see separate story - click here], the crux of which were a heavily revised and much simplified floor and exhaust - and if it was a risk, then it was one that paid off handsomely around the streets of Albert Park on Sunday. Newey, however, suggests that it was never really that great a risk for McLaren at all, as RBR had already done the groundwork by ably proving the success of its own design in testing.

"McLaren made a huge leap forward - by copying our exhaust, it has to be said," the Milton Keynes-based squad's chief technical officer is quoted as having said by Reuters, "but the bottom line is they still made huge leaps forward. I am sure they will be pushing us hard. We think [the exhaust] works for us. It seems it also works for McLaren. It's a form of flattery, but it's a bit of a pain if they then beat you with it!"

Indeed, Williams, too, intends to put a similar concept on its own Cosworth-powered FW33 come the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai in mid-April, but by then Red Bull hopes to have another ace up its sleeve in order to keep ahead of the pursuing pack, with the planned addition in Malaysia of KERS, after the energy-saving device's reliability was deemed too uncertain to run it in Australia.

"If we feel it's reliable then we will try to race it," Newey confirmed, whilst playing down team principal Christian Horner's revelation that he is not a fan of 'compromising the car around the system', and that by extension, the system must therefore fit into the car's aerodynamic shape [see separate story - click here]. "We will have to make that decision on Friday evening [at Sepang]. KERS is a benefit off the start-line, so even if you are on the front row, without KERS there's a risk that you won't be first into the first corner.

"It's not really a packaging problem as such. We have packaged it in quite an aggressive manner, but that wasn't the cause of the problem [in Melbourne]. It was actually a relatively trivial problem, but KERS is a complicated system; we have been trying to develop the element of it that has been giving us a bit of trouble ourselves, and we're not experts in that field."

The Englishman was speaking at the Royal Automobile Club in London, where he was presented with the prestigious Segrave Trophy, an accolade named after the late 1920s land and water world speed record-holder Henry Segrave.

"To receive such an illustrious and distinguished trophy like this, it almost sends shivers down my spine when I look at the names that have received it in the past," Newey revealed, alluding to the likes of Malcolm and Donald Campbell, Sir Stirling Moss, Bruce McLaren, Sir Jackie Stewart, Barry Sheene, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and Lewis Hamilton. "I feel very honoured."



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