F1,March,3-2011:Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have both expressed concerns that McLaren are already playing catch-up this season.
The duo were all smiles as they played with McLaren’s new supercar, the MP4-12C, on a wet and bitterly cold day at Dunsfold Aerodrome, where Top Gear films its ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Car’ feature.
Giving passenger rides to Britain’s F1 written media, it was an opportunity for them to unwind in between pre-season testing sessions that have so far proved a frustration.
Focusing on development, McLaren launched this year’s challenger a few days later than their main rivals, Red Bull Racing, Ferrari and Mercedes, which led to them missing the first test in Valencia.
In the subsequent tests in Jerez and Barcelona, the team have been plagued with reliability issues which have cost them track time.
With a final four-day test to come in Barcelona next week, Ferrari and Red Bull have completed double the mileage of McLaren, and that is a worry.
“The team are aware of it, and of course we’d love to have had more mileage, but there is a real balance,” Hamilton told Press Association Sport.
“We left it (unveiling the car) a bit later, not because the car was late, but because we wanted a week or two more to develop it, and perhaps it’s not played right into our hands.
“We’ve good things in the pipeline, and we definitely improved in the last couple of days’ testing, doing 107 laps on the final day at the last test.
“We’ve not done the mileage at the beginning, but hopefully we can pick up on reliability, and that the downforce is on its way.”
Lack of downforce cost McLaren dear in 2009 when they turned up at the first test, months after Hamilton was crowned champion, with a dud of a car that was two seconds off the pace.
An honest Hamilton added: “This car is closer to the ’09 car in the sense of downforce.
“The ’09 car was terrible as it was hopping, three-wheeling through corners, locking up, and it had no downforce.
“This car doesn’t lock up, it doesn’t three-wheel, and it handles really nice, better than last year’s car, but it just doesn’t have as much downforce.
“Because the regulations have changed, it’s a similar downforce level to ’09.
“We have a little more, but it’s not far off, so it feels weak in that area. Hopefully we’ve more downforce coming onto the car.”
Ahead of his second season with McLaren, 2009 champion Button is hopeful the team have ironed out the issues and he can churn out the laps at the Circuit de Catalunya.
“When I first jumped in the car my first reaction was not ‘wow, we’re going to blow everyone away’,” said Button.
“But then I don’t think anyone would have felt that because the car has a lot less downforce and the tyres (Pirelli) are working very differently to the previous tyre (Bridgestone).
“There’s nothing that really scares me about the car in a negative way, so there’s a lot we can improve through general set-up work.
“This year, at the moment, we’ve had some issues in testing in terms of getting parts to the circuit and a couple of reliability issues.
“So we’ve not done as much running as we would have liked, which has hurt our set-up work.
“But we do have four more days and hopefully things are going to run more sweetly at the next test, we get a lot of laps in, and then we can improve the base we have.”