Martin Whitmarsh remains confident that McLaren can continue to take the challenge to Red Bull this season, and that there is still more to come from the new package that was hurriedly introduced for Australia.
The worrying thing for everyone else is that Red Bull took off KERS for the race, and that represented a potential loss of 0.3s/0.4s per lap which in theory the team will regain for the next race. However Whitmarsh expects to be able to keep up.
“If we make as much progress in the next 10 days as in the last 10, it will be easy, won’t it!,” he joked. “Three tenths is not insignificant, but you can make those steps. You’ve got to keep pushing, if they don’t, we’ll attack, but I’m sure they’re going to keep pushing, they’re a strong team.
“In truth we’ve been in slightly tunnel vision for the last 10 days, because initially we did not believe we could get this upgrade here, we focussed on that. We’ll re-group tomorrow and we’ll take a view on what’s possible for Malaysia.”
Whitmarsh said that the team seemed to have an advantage on tyre wear, which could bode well for the future.
“We should have had two cars on the podium here. I think Lewis was not quite as quick as Sebastian, but I think until he had the floor damage he was not far from him. I think his tyre usage was slightly lighter than the Red Bulls and Ferraris, and I think by comparison most of the quick cars, with the exception of Perez, and how that happened, I don’t know!
“So that’s encouraging, I think that will become more critical for instance in Sepang, which is going to be heavier on tyres. So if people here were having to three stop and we were comfortably able to two-stop, maybe that will be an advantage. It depends how it falls.
“And we know that what we did here was a fairly improvised set of modifications, we can certainly improve on those, certainly by the time we get to Malaysia. Sebastian is doing a fantastic job, and so’s Adrian [Newey], so we’re going to have to work hard. But that’s what we’re here for. I think it’s a prospect now of a great championship.
“Ferrari did look off the pace and so did Mercedes, but they’re two great teams and they’ve got the knowledge and the capability. We saw how Ferrari did a great recovery last year. I think this is one race, I think it was a reasonably encouraging start, certainly by comparison to winter testing! And we’ll now see what we can do for the rest of the season.”
He admitted it wasn’t clear whether Lewis Hamilton’s floor damage was the cause of or was caused by his trip across the grass at Turn One.
“In fairness to him I think it may have happened just before he went off. I didn’t see how aggressive Lewis had been on the kerbs, but you’ve got to say a car should be robust enough to have an excursion without damaging the floor.
“Whether an excursion was caused or created by it, you have excursions, there are kerbs on Grands Prix. By the same token both cars did a race distance and that’s actually the first time we’ve achieved a race distance with this car! I don’t think we should be too hard on ourselves about it.”
The biggest frustration for the team was the drive through penalty that cost Button a potential third place.
“He had the pace, and he would have been on the podium. That’s frustrating, that’s annoying, but these things happen in motor racing. I think we’ve got to take the positives out of it. Both drivers did a fantastic job. They’ve had a frustrating winter, the team’s had a difficult winter.
“The team’s done a great job to get here with an ad hoc upgrade package that performed, the drivers have kept spirit in the team and commitment themselves, they’ve done a fantastic job here in all the practice sessions and showed good form, and they raced well. Sometimes these things work for you, sometimes they don’t.”