McLaren expecting to struggle in Bahrain

By Michael Casey, AP, 19 April 2013
© McLaren

For McLaren, the story is becoming depressingly familiar. Another track and another race it doesn't expect to win.

McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were 11th and 13th fastest in the second practice ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Things aren't expected to get much better Sunday, the team acknowledged, due to the hot and sandy conditions which are unfavourable to a car like McLaren's which has struggled with lateral traction.

"I don't want to hide behind the fact that this is a real traction-limited circuit. You have a lot of relatively low-speed corners onto straights and the weakness of our car is low-speed traction," team principal Martin Whitmarsh said. "This plays to our weaknesses. This will be a tough weekend for us I think."

The season has been turned into almost a rebuilding year for one of the sport's most successful teams. After winning seven races last season, the team lost Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes and then rolled out a redesigned a car that has yet to deliver even a podium finish.

But despite the early-season disappointment, the team remains almost defiant that it can succeed and dismissed suggestions the season was already lost.

"We're not contemplating giving up this year at the moment. We have never done it before. It will be very difficult for us psychologically," Whitmarsh said. "What we are thinking about doing at the moment ... it's early in the season how do we find that performance and how do we make the progress that we want to make."

Whitmarsh also discounted suggestions that his job was on the line if the car doesn't improve this year.

"Ultimately, it's for the shareholders to decide," Whitmarsh said. "I've been around this sport for a long time. I've been around through some good times and some tough times. At the moment, I've got the support of the shareholders so I don't feel particularly threatened."

Still, he acknowledged that he felt a bit of pressure as the disappointing results mount.

"That pressure is internal from myself," he said. "I don't like going motor racing and turning up at a Grand Prix without the prospect of winning that weekend."

To close the gap with the Ferraris and Red Bulls, the team has launched a two-pronged strategy.

It has used practice sessions ahead of the last two races and Bahrain to conduct various experiments on the car and then tried several unorthodox strategies in a bid to close the gap on the cars at the front of the grid -- it ran a two pit stop strategy, for example, in China while most teams made three stops.

"Every time the car leaves the garage, we run another experiment," Whitmarsh said. "We have been tough on our drivers. They have had a challenge on a Friday. Instead of being focused on how do I optimize the car for the weekend, they have had to go out and do controlled aerodynamic tests, had the car changing continuously."

Button said the current environment has been a challenge but he was doing his best to adapt.

"I don't feel under pressure at all. I feel relaxed, comfortable," he said. "I still want to win and think we do have a good chance to be in front again this year. ... In these difficult times, you have to maximise what you have. I feel we will have a package that will leave us a lot closer to the front."

The game changer, the team hopes, is a series of modifications being developed back home at the McLaren Technology Center in Woking, England. They will be introduced for the Spanish Grand Prix and is expected to be much faster.

Button insisted he wasn't looking beyond Bahrain to Spain but also welcomed the prospected of a "new package" in Spain.

"The car will be step forward but also it will give us other options in terms of set up," Button said. "We are very restricted and limited with what we can do with the car at the moment. There will lots hopefully we can do when we get to Barcelona."


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