Lewis Hamilton admits: My car felt awesome but it wasn't quick
Updated McLaren fails to impress as drivers are left frustrated and down the field
On a day when the sun finally shone over Silverstone, McLaren left under a cloud. The circuit should have played to the aerodynamic strength of their updated car, but they suffered a massive disappointment yesterday as Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button could finish only eighth and 10th.
Hamilton was competitive early on, running the medium-compound Pirelli tyre, and even retook the lead from Fernando Alonso that he had inherited when the Spaniard made his first pit stop. But that was as close as McLaren got to glory, and it soon faded.
"We are a long way away," Hamilton admitted, when comparing his McLaren with Mark Webber's winning Red Bull and Alonso's Ferrari. "We are still in the fight, but unless we find a lot of time, it's going to be hard to stay in it."
Button started 16th after lacking grip in qualifying, and struggled throughout.
"It's not just the Red Bulls and the Ferraris that are quicker than us, a lot of cars are," he said. "Our car doesn't feel too bad, but everyone else's must feel really good because they're a lot faster than us. I was racing the Williams and the Sauber, and you see areas where they're able to put the car or make mistakes and get away with it. I don't understand how they're able to do that.
"The Sauber is quicker in high-speed corners than us, the Williams is quicker in low-speed corners. It's tricky. We don't seem to be exceptionally strong anywhere at the moment, and we thought we would be here. It's a high-speed circuit and we thought that was one of our strengths."
Hamilton echoed his team-mate's sentiments. "My car actually felt awesome, but it just wasn't quick," he said.
Part of his problem was a disparity in performance between his first and final sets of tyres.
"Today we were very, very slow in the low-speed corners and Michael Schumacher came past me near the end and he was really quick in the high-speeds," he said.
Hamilton, who held the lead in the World Championship after his victory in Canada, is now fourth with 92 points to Alonso's 129. Button, winner of the opening race, is only eighth with 50.
McLaren, meanwhile, slumped from second in the constructors' stakes to fourth, separated from Red Bull by Ferrari and Lotus.
"Lewis's first stint was very impressive on the first medium tyre," said the team principal, Martin Whitmarsh. "It went a long way and he had good pace. We then switched to the soft tyre, which he was fine on, but we sensed that it was prone to graining.
"We then stopped too soon on that, because we were covering Grosjean. It would have been OK if the second set of mediums had been as good as the first, but as soon as Lewis put them on he was not as comfortable. It was therefore a long third stint."
Whitmarsh said that he did not believe that McLaren had got it dramatically wrong, but admitted that it would have been better to run longer on the soft tyre in the middle stint.
"Overall, we weren't good enough, is the summary," he confessed. "And there weren't enough incidents for us to capitalise on. It's been one of those weekends. We had lots of stuff on the car but couldn't run it properly on Friday because of the weather.
"We have a decent, more visible upgrade package for Germany and we've got to make sure we deliver that and make it stick. We've got to develop the car, make sure we use the tyres better.
"I'm disappointed but I'm not desperate yet. It's a long season and we're a strong team. This race was only a twentieth of it and no race is more important than another."
One positive was that McLaren's pit stops were flawless and among the fastest. But it remains to be seen how the overall disappointment influences Hamilton's decision about his future.
"I think he's smarter than that," Whitmarsh said. "My pitch is he's got to want to be in this team, which I believe he does. He knows that racing is highs and lows and this hasn't been one of the high weekends."
A year ago McLaren were reeling here after Button's car lost a wheel and a mistake on fuel settings obliged Hamilton to reduce his pace. They responded by winning the next time out, in Germany. Now the pressure is greater than ever for them to do something similar at Hockenheim in two weeks' time.
"Four weeks ago it was different and in two weeks' time it could be different again," Whitmarsh said. "We're disciplined enough and battle-hardened enough these days. You've got to take stock and learn from these weekends. Sometimes you can learn more than you do from the successful weekends."
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