McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh admits to enduring one of the toughest days of his 24 years in Formula One.
In a frank assessment of his team after the opening day’s practice for the Australian Grand Prix, Whitmarsh and his technical crew are at a loss to understand their latest car.
At this early stage Jenson Button can forget winning his fourth race in five years Down Under, and Sergio Perez will have to temper his stated desperation for a maiden victory.
The duo finished 11th and 13th on the timesheet, over two seconds off the pace of reigning three-times world champion Sebastian Vettel as Red Bull took the sandbags off their car from testing after clearly masking their true pace in Jerez and Barcelona.
Suggested to Whitmarsh McLaren were “struggling a touch”, he replied: “That’s a very kind understatement because it was one of the hardest days I can recall. We lacked overall grip, consistency, there was a bit of understeer, it was a poor ride, so a very difficult day.
“It was one where we didn’t go forward either during the course of the day, so that’s a bit of a concern.
“The team will be working long and hard tonight, and although we’ve given ourselves a base we should be able to improve upon, it was a disappointingly tough day for the team.”
At the end of last year McLaren finished the season with the quickest car, winning the final two races in the United States and Brazil. Despite that, and the stability in the regulations from last season through to this, the decision was made to make comprehensive changes to the car.
The belief was they would hit the ground running and from there be able to continually develop the car to keep it ahead of the pack, yet instead they find themselves floundering. Whitmarsh readily concedes that is not what is expected of McLaren, even though they have not now won a trophy since 2008, whilst their last constructors’ crown was 15 years ago.
“We consciously made a lot of changes to the car running into this season, and at the moment we don’t fully understand how to get the best out of it,” added Whitmarsh. With Red Bull one-two in practice, their main opposition at present appears to be from Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari, whilst McLaren will struggle to get even one of their cars in the top 10 in qualifying.
Nico Rosberg was third quickest in a Mercedes that has team-mate Lewis Hamilton “massively excited” given the progress made from the end of last year.
Hamilton was down in seventh and should have been quicker but for a run across the grass on his one attempt on the faster supersoft tyre.
That damaged the underside of the car and later led to a minor shunt with a tyre wall, whilst Rosberg suffered a gearbox issue in the dying moments.
The Lotus’ of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean were fourth and fifth fastest, whilst the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were sixth and eighth.
Force India’s Paul Di Resta split the McLarens in 12th, whilst Max Chilton was 21st for Marussia, 4.692secs behind Vettel.
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