McLaren expect swift response from Ferrari

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The Independent Online

Despite a great start to the Formula One season, in which Lewis Hamilton scored an easy victory in the Australian Grand Prix and team-mate Heikki Kovalainen was an unlucky fifth as Ferrari crumbled, McLaren are not expecting an easy ride in what is clearly set to be another tough season.

Shrugging off the debilitating effect of disqualification from last year’s world championship for constructors and a $100m fine, for alleged use of Ferrari intellectual property in their car, McLaren bounced back in Melbourne with a new design that the FIA have already cleared as containing no Ferrari data.

While McLaren dominated, both world champion Kimi Raikkonen and his team partner Felipe Massa retired their Ferraris with engine failures.

“It has been a challenging few months in many different ways,” McLaren team principal Ron Dennis conceded. “The best way to do anything in this sport is to do it at the circuit, and win very competitively. And that is what we did today.”

Nevertheless, he expects Ferrari to bounce back strongly this coming weekend in Malaysia.

"Every grand prix team experiences difficult weekends," he said. "They have got a lot of depth and we are under no illusions that they will come back and will be very competitive in Malaysia and for the rest of the season. All we can do is try and stay focused on our own efforts and that is what we will do.”

While McLaren matched pre-season favourite Ferrari’s pace in Melbourne, Dennis said that the true picture will not emerge until the Spanish GP in May, which starts the European season.

"I think even if in the next two races we maintain the competitiveness, the true strengths of everybody's cars will not be known until Barcelona. Between now and then we are all our making cars faster."

Ferrari’s new team principal Stefano Domenicali, who took over from Jean Todt, said that there was no sense of panic in the sport’s most legendary team. "The result speaks for itself. Unfortunately it was a dreadful weekend. Nothing went as planned, so it was difficult. But if you remember, in 2006 we had a similar start with the two non-finishes and we were able to catch up again.

"We weren't phenomenal guys before this race and we are not stupid after it, so we really need to analyse in all the details what has happened. And of course the main concern is to understand the reliability problems. We had two engines fail so this is the main issue to understand.

"But we need to stay cool, calm and concentrated. We need not be too emotional now because it's very easy to go down that route. We need to stay very rational."

Back in Italy Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said the result was healthy for the team, to keep themselves grounded. "It was a healthy dose of humility," he said. "I'm looking forward to Malaysia when I expect to see the real Ferrari."

Nevertheless, the result provided the perfect start to the season for Hamilton, whose victory bore the hallmark of a future champion.

Dennis, who won’t be going to Malaysia for personal reasons but will be at all the remaining races thereafter, admitted that he was very surprised how easy it looked for his protégé despite very high ambient temperatures in Australia. “He was very fresh, and he was very comfortable. And he was saving the engine. It was very easy!

“Our objective always is to look forward, focus on the next race and the rest of the season. I think we have shown we have a very competitive car, so we will go to Malaysia with a very positive mood.”

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