DaimlerChrysler chairman Dieter Zetsche has raised the stakes for McLaren and Mercedes next season, by demanding that the combination bring back the Formula One world title for Stuttgart.

Unhappy at missing out on both titles in 2005, things got worse for the company this season as McLaren went winless for the first time in a decade, although Kimi Raikkonen, in particular, had chances to take victory on several occasions and stand-in Pedro de la Rosa took second in Hungary. Despite proving to be 'best of the rest' behind title contenders Renault and Ferrari, the Woking team needs to be challenging for the crown again soon, according to Zetsche.

"It wouldn't be asking too much for us to be two places better next season - then I would be satisfied," he was quoted as saying during the weekend's annual 'Stars and Cars' festival at the Mercedes museum, "We want to be first. This year, we had five or six chances to win, but came away with nothing. We were not good enough, and that has to change if we are to take the title."

Although the year ended with McLaren and Mercedes empty-handed, and nearly 100 points behind champions Renault, Zetsche did find a crumb of comfort in the end of year standings.

"We have three times as many points as BMW and Toyota," he noted.

Zetsche, as well as team bosses Ron Dennis and Norbert Haug, will be hoping that the arrival of double world champion Fernando Alonso will be the galvanising element that takes McLaren back to the head of the field, even though it was reliability that let Raikkonen down more often than not in 2006. Alonso arrives on the back of successive titles with Renault to replace the Finn, who moves to Ferrari in place of the retiring Michael Schumacher.

The identity of Alonso's team-mate remains unclear, with de la Rosa, test driver Gary Paffett and GP2 Series champion Lewis Hamilton all in the frame. Paffett is thought least likely to get a shot, having been offered to other teams for 2007, leaving the more experienced de la Rosa to face up to the threat from the mercurial Hamilton.

Despite Zetsche applying the pressure to succeed in 2007, the Briton remains hotly tipped to make his F1 debut next season, although McLaren is being cautious about throwing him at the deep end, and eschewed the opportunity to blood him in the 2006 finale at Interlagos. Hamilton will now test extensively over the winter while the team evaluates its options.

'Stars and Cars' was also Raikkonen's final appearance as a Mercedes 'employee' and while he thanked the team and the crowd for their support over the past five years, Haug admitted that he would like to see a lot of the Finn next season - provided it was in the rear view mirrors of the two McLarens.



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