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Motor Racing

McLaren: Lewis Hamilton welcome to visit, but not our garage

New Mercedes driver Hamilton reveals his hurt at being turned away by his old team

McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh stressed that Lewis Hamilton will always be welcome to visit his old team, after the driver complained that he had been turned away from their garage during winter testing in Jerez.

Hamilton's 14-year association with the Woking-based team ended last year when he decided to switch to Mercedes, and a fourth and two third places in the opening three races leave him comfortably ahead of old team-mate Jenson Button and replacement Sergio Perez, who are struggling with McLaren's new car. "I went to see them in Australia but I also tried to see them in Jerez, at the test, and their sporting director Sam Michael threw me out of the garage," Hamilton told the official Formula One website. "That wasn't very positive and I don't feel very good about that."

Whitmarsh said: "Firstly, Lewis is always perfectly welcome at McLaren and he knows that. He came to see us in Australia and he and I talked, so it's a little bit of a storm in a teacup.

"I would never consider going into Ferrari's garage even though I have a very good relationship with team boss Stefano Domenicali. I suspect if I did that I would politely be asked to leave. It's the same for any competitor. I think Lewis was asked to leave in a good-natured manner in Jerez, and may have been slightly naïve. But he is always welcome in our hospitality and other appropriate areas."

And, referring to the pit stop in the recent Malaysian GP when Hamilton accidentally headed first to McLaren before driving through to Mercedes, Whitmarsh added tongue in cheek: "We waved him through there but could have delayed him by servicing him and taking him on a wheelie board into the garage…"

Ferrari led the first practice session here yesterday, courtesy of Felipe Massa and Chinese Grand Prix winner Fernando Alonso, before Australian GP winner Kimi Raikkonen moved ahead for Lotus in the afternoon.

Pirelli's two hardest-compound tyres are likely to prove more durable than the rubber they supplied in China, where many drivers complained that they were unable to race full-out throughout the event. But tyre performance will still affect who qualifies at the front of the grid, and who dominates the race.

Hamilton, 10th in the afternoon, said: "We worked as hard as we could today but couldn't quite get the balance of the car where it needs to be. I had some issues in the first session which we were able to improve for this afternoon so that's a positive, but we need to identify where we are losing time and find more performance."

He added: "I don't think we are as far off as it looks. I think other people were on different fuel loads.

"It looks like we're 0.6 sec off the pace. I think it's maybe half that; maybe a bit less.

"But it will be a tough battle for sure this weekend."

Button, 11th for McLaren, said: "It's very difficult to know exactly what to do with set-up. This is a big traction circuit, with lots of low-speed exits and a few high-speed corners too, and that puts a lot of load into the rear tyres.

"The tyres are behaving a bit strangely here – driving conservatively doesn't seem to help their wear-life, so there's only so much you can do without damaging your outright pace."

Red Bull's defending champion, Sebastian Vettel, was fourth and then third in the two practice sessions, and echoed Hamilton's view that it will be tight this weekend.

"It will be very close in qualifying. It matters a lot to work with the tyres around the track," he said. "I wasn't very happy with the short runs I did today. I seemed to struggle to put the lap together to be honest.

"The tyres seemed to be the dominating factor. After 10, 12, 14, 15 laps the tyres started to fall apart and people really started to struggle with the rear tyres.

"The car is quick. We have to make sure we use that. The speed of the car can only be shown if you translate it the proper way through the tyres."