Shock as McLaren admit that they can't aim for wins by Melbourne

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    Shock as McLaren admit that they can't aim for wins by Melbourne

    Post by Ross on 13th March 2009, 10:20

    McLaren: We aren't ready to win races

    McLaren has admitted for the first time that its MP4-24 car is simply not yet fast enough and isn't ready to fight for wins, just two weeks before the new season starts in Australia.

    The Woking-based squad, which last year won the drivers’ world title with Lewis Hamilton, perennially vies for Formula 1’s top honours with Ferrari and had appeared to have adapted well to the sport's technical overhaul for 2009 following the initial pre-season tests.

    But this week the team slumped to the bottom of the timesheets at the final major test of the winter in Barcelona, with Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen each propping up the order on one day apiece some two seconds off the pace.

    This came despite the MP4-24 running with a new front wing, resdesigned floor and top body – a package of Melbourne-spec performance updates new team boss Martin Whitmarsh now acknowledges has resulted in a “performance shortfall” which it is “working hard to resolve".

    Indeed Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug – who has ironically seen the German firm’s customer engines help power Brawn GP to its stunning timesheet-topping times – admits that on current form McLaren is firmly on the back foot heading to Melbourne.

    “There is a lack of downforce and we are currently working hard to solve this problem,” Haug said.

    “Basically, the car feels good - that is what our drivers say.
    “However, we are currently definitely not fast enough, not competitive enough to aim for victories."

    While headline lap times from pre-season testing are notoriously difficult to interpret, the unusual site of a McLaren being the slowest car in a full 10-team field prompted speculation that all was not well with the MP4-24.

    McLaren chairman Ron Dennis, who handed over team principal reigns to Whitmarsh on March 1, attempted to play down its troubles earlier this week, although he did concede that its pre-season programme hadn’t entirely gone to plan.

    But after Hamilton ended the Barcelona test 1.9s slower than the pace set by Brawn GP, Whitmarsh has now confirmed it is suffering “chassis-centric” problems centred on its aerodynamic package.

    “It is a combination of factors,” he said.

    “Our Mercedes-Benz engine is strong - we saw that last year - so MP4-24's performance shortfall is clearly chassis-centric.

    “Inevitably, in 21st-century Formula 1, it is a car's aero aspect that confers the greatest pluses and minuses to its overall performance package, and that would appear to be the case with MP4-24."

    Sources told ITV that the aero issues are linked to a problem with rear wing stalling, with McLaren having alternated between 2008 and 2009-spec rear wings at Jerez last week and redesigned the car’s floor.

    Recent tests have also seen McLaren conduct ‘flow vis’ tests – whereby a green dye is applied to the side of the car and is dispersed as the air flows over it at speed – to highlight how the airflow is being managed, a practice normally carried out behind closed doors in private testing.

    Having completed its early running with an interim aerodynamic package, McLaren had always aimed to introduce its definitive Melbourne specification car at the latest possible moment – therefore the unexpected issues presented the team with a problem given it has just one test left at Jerez next week before the first race.

    Whitmarsh, however, expressed confidence the team’s engineers would quickly get on top of the problems and get the MP4-24 up to the team’s expected level of performance.

    “Formula 1 engineers can do great things when the pressure is on,” he said.

    "Speaking to them today, I was struck by their resolute determination to address MP4-24's issues in record time.

    “In fact, it is that kind of resolute determination, coupled with expertise and experience of ultra-high technology and the ability to work accurately and quickly under pressure, that makes Formula 1 the great sport and the tremendous engineering challenge it is."

    However, both Whitmarsh and Haug have conceded that McLaren is still likely to be behind its main rivals at the first race.

    "Next week we will be testing at Jerez, which many of our rivals will not be,” Whitmarsh said.

    “We aim to continue to develop the car, and the result should be measurable on the stopwatch.

    “Will MP4-24 be as quick as we want it to be by March 29 [the date of the Australian Grand Prix]? Perhaps not.

    “Will it be quicker than it has been this week at the Barcelona test? Yes.

    “Will it improve as we develop its aero and thereby address its problems in the coming weeks and months? Most certainly."

    Haug appeared even more cautious, adding: "We are working hard to improve.

    “However, it might take us a few races to significantly improve."

    But while the team may not be in a position to allow Lewis Hamilton to start the defence of his world crown with a victory, Whitmarsh has no doubt that it will get stronger as the season progresses.

    “Many times in Formula 1 history have successful teams started off with a car that was not working as well as they had hoped it would, and many times have those successful teams engineered their way back to the front of the grid in impressively short order,” he said.

    “That is what we aim to do. In fact, that is what we are already doing."


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