McLaren fear being left behind when flag drops on new season

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Hamilton and Button voice concerns about new car after Red Bull and Ferrari dominate testing sessions

Fernando Alonso and Ferrari exude a menacing air of confidence here ahead of tomorrow's first practice session for Sunday's opening Formula One race of the year, while over at champions Red Bull the team principal, Christian Horner, is doing everything he can not to look complacent. Meanwhile, Mercedes are cock-a-hoop after the speed they found in their new car in the final test in Barcelona. But at McLaren they are whistling to keep their spirits up after their unreliable new MP4-26 failed to set the world alight in any of its three test outings.

The intriguing disparities set the scene for another fascinating season, in which five drivers who have won the world championship go head to head – Alonso, the reigning title holder Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and the evergreen Michael Schumacher, who is determined to wipe out the memory of an unconvincing comeback last year by recapturing past glories.

Then there is Nico Rosberg, just as determined to keep Schumacher under his thumb at Mercedes as he was throughout 2010 and seeking his first grand prix victory. Likewise Nick Heidfeld is looking for the top step on the podium for the first time in a long career after Robert Kubica's horrible rallying accident last month catapulted him from obscurity to the Pole's seat in the Renault team.

Or Felipe Massa, eager to regain the form that took him so close to winning the 2008 title. Mark Webber, dead set on making amends for that South Korean mistake which, arguably, cost him the title last year. There's rookie Paul di Resta, carrying the hopes of Scotland. Or... You get the picture. Like 2010, we are in for another bumper year, with new regulation changes stirring the pot and technicians' fertile minds all over again. One in which, apart from knowing that Red Bull and Ferrari are the best prepared, true form will remain difficult to predict with anything approaching complete accuracy until qualifying in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon.

Perhaps the most intriguing question surrounds McLaren: are things really so bad? Here is Button's take on the MP4-26: "I would be surprised if we can really match the Red Bull and the Ferrari when we get to Melbourne," he said. "That is a big ask. But never say never. I am quite impressed with the step we made with the car in the last test. But it's still not enough."

McLaren arrived in Melbourne with half the mileage in testing of Red Bull and Ferrari, whose cars appear blindingly quick. So is it the case that the MP4-26 just is not as well thought through as the Red Bull RB7, the Ferrari 150° Italia or the Mercedes MGP W02? Is it the lack of reliability that has thus far prevented the team from unlocking the potential of the car in cohesive running? Or is it something deeper-rooted that has its heart in McLaren's philosophy of using alternating design teams? Time will tell.

Hamilton insists he is not feeling frustrated, but may have been sending some coded messages to his team – that one world title will not be enough for him and that his clock may be ticking. "I'm not here to race 10 years and only win one or two world championships," he said. "I want to be one of the most successful F1 drivers of this generation. You have to continue winning and prove yourself time after time for people to really know that you are the best."

Despite rumours that he might consider a switch to Red Bull, Hamilton remains loyal to the team that gave him his chance in Formula One. "Look at the history of McLaren," he continued. "They are an incredible team. It's a great place to go to work and I feel privileged to be part of the team. They are fighters, and so am I."

Button has said that McLaren will be pleased if they leave Australia in third behind Red Bull and Ferrari, which shows you how much trouble they are in because that suggests they suspect Mercedes and Renault will be quicker, perhaps even Williams. "You're not going to be happy being the third-fastest team," Button admitted, "but I don't think it'll be a bad way to start the season. Considering the last few tests and our pace, you would be reasonably happy with that." The fact remains that that is very definitely not what McLaren's engineers envisaged two months ago.

One thing is clear: if anyone can turn things around, it is McLaren, as they proved with the initially lamentable MP4-24 which was turned into a winner by August after a terrible start to the 2009 season. But the big question is not whether McLaren can achieve such a transformation, but rather whether they can do it in time to keep Hamilton and Button in the title fight against two – maybe three – experienced opponents who are hell-bent on starting their seasons at a wholly competitive pitch.

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence