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McLaren battling against time

ESPN Staff
March 18, 2013 « 'It was tough ... we lack pace' admits Perez | Danica Patrick downplays F1 link »
All smiles at the launch of the MP4-28 in January ... but it's a very different picture now © Sutton Images

As the McLaren team packed up in the twilight at Albert Park, back at its Surrey headquarters work was continuing feverishly to try to remedy the major problems which have left the new MP4-28 struggling to compete in the midfield let alone at the front.

The extent of the seriousness of the predicament was underlined by both lead driver Jenson Button and team boss Martin Whitmarsh. Button, who said his ninth-place finish was better than he feared, admitted: "We all know the way things are and there is an understanding that it is not OK."

And Whitmarsh, who did not even try to pretend over the weekend that the challenges facing McLaren were anything other than huge, told journalists that "The way the car is at the moment - the package sat in the garage right now - is not going to win a race".

Unfortunately, the schedule means they have a four days before the first day of practice for next weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix and there is an acceptance that another three days of despondency awaits. Perhaps the most alarming thing for McLaren fans is that there is not even a pretence that this is a little local difficulty.

"We've really got to learn about this car, we've got to work these problems out and we've got to solve it," Whitmarsh said. "It isn't good enough at the moment and that is not a good feeling. I'm sure we'll get it right; we might not get it right as quickly as I would like but we will see.

"We struggled to have that proper understanding in testing. I think a lot of people did; winter testing was very strange this year so we didn't have the full understanding. We knew we weren't coming here with masses of confidence but I think it frankly was a little bit worse than we expected."

As the scale of what faced the team became clear Oliver Turvey, one of its test drivers, was summoned to Woking to work long hours in the simulator while the engineers scrutinised every scrap of information coming from the tests and also from Albert Park.

"We know there are fundamentals we have to change," Button said. "We're going through every single piece of information, as well as everything we collected over the winter and everything we have done in the simulator, the track work, the straight-line testing. It is going to be flat out.

"We've been in bad positions before and come back strong. In these difficult days, it is important that we make the best of it. We got points and we did not expect that. It is not all lost. We have not given up."

While Button attempted to remain defiant, the most concerning line from Whitmarsh was his admission that thoughts of a switch back to the old car had crossed the team's mind.

"It's not a serious option for Malaysia - no. I think at the moment we've got to work hard on this car and we know it's got some areas of high potential and we know it has potentially more downforce than last year's car."

The MP4-28 proved a real handful around Albert Park © Sutton Images