Skilled PR operators know how to bury bad news, and you would have thought McLaren had something to hide when they snuck out a press release at 11.22pm UK time on Saturday night…
In fact the document was not some terrible confession of wrongdoing, but a routine race preview, and worth a look as it contained the thoughts of the two drivers as they head to their first race as team mates.
The world has already decided that Jenson Button is going to have a hard time this year, but that’s created an environment in which he’s the underdog, and that’s a situation he no doubt enjoys.
“I’m really looking forward to getting into my car on Friday morning in Bahrain and knowing that I’m the world champion,” he said. “It’s a responsibility and an honour – but it’s something I’m going to enjoy for as long as I can. I don’t want to lose that number from my car!
“My winter has been an incredible learning experience – joining Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has provided me with exactly the sort of challenge I needed. I have put every effort into working with the team, my engineers and learning about my car to ensure that we start the season in Bahrain in the best possible shape.
“Even after four weeks of testing, it’s incredibly difficult to predict the order ahead of the new season. There are a number of teams and drivers who appear to be in the hunt, and, as with the start of every new season, it will be fascinating to see who emerges as the team to beat. I’ve never known a team work as hard as we have done over the winter – I’ve spent more time with my engineers this winter than I have before any other season, and I feel very comfortable about my preparations.”
For Lewis Hamilton meanwhile this is a year where he hopes to build on everything he learned during the struggles of 2009. He said at the end of last season that he’s a better driver than ever, and now he has the chance to prove it.
“I can’t believe the winter’s over already,” said Lewis. “It seems like only yesterday when I was racing in Abu Dhabi. It’s been a winter of two halves for me: before Christmas, I really focused on my fitness and training, working away to be as ready as possible for the new season. Since January, I’ve been fully focused on working with the team, testing the car and improving our package ahead of the opening race of the year.
“There’s been a huge workload, but it’s been fantastic to work with Jenson and the engineers to improve MP4-25, and we’re all extremely pleased with the progress we’ve made and the direction we’ve taken. I think we have a very promising car beneath us: it’s a real change of direction for us, and I think the possibilities with this car are very exciting. Now, though, it’s all about the racing – once I put my crash helmet on and pull the visor down, I know more than anything that I’m ready to go racing.”
Meanwhile team boss Martin Whitmarsh is optimistic: “From our side, we’ve been engaged in one of the most painstakingly diligent pre-season programmes that we’ve ever undertaken. We’ve amassed an enormous amount of data and we’ve learnt a considerable amount about MP4-25 in just four brief tests. We’ve been encouraged by our progress, we’ve been delighted with the input of both Jenson and Lewis and, finally, we feel ready.”
The McLaren was fastest overall at the last two tests. Will it be the car to beat next weekend?