McLaren must keep impoving says team principal Martin Whitmarsh

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The Independent Online

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh believes Formula One's own version of the arms race will determine who wins this year's title war.

Red Bull held a clear advantage in the opening two races in Australia and Malaysia as Sebastian Vettel strolled to back-to-back victories, only for McLaren to reel in the German in the last grand prix in China.

The reigning world champion has so far proven uncatchable over one lap in qualifying with three poles in a row this year, but McLaren's race pace has kept them in the hunt.

That was particularly evident in Shanghai where a monumental effort from the team in terms of development, in comparison to where they were in pre-season testing, lifted Lewis Hamilton onto the top step of the podium.

With the first of the European races looming this weekend in Turkey after the three-race flyaway start to the campaign, Hamilton trails Vettel by 21 points, with McLaren team-mate Jenson Button 30 adrift as he lies third in the standings.

The tonic delivered by Hamilton's success in Shanghai has fuelled belief within McLaren they can catch and surpass Red Bull when it boils down to who can develop the car more quickly and efficiently.

"Winning in China was a fantastic reward for all the hard effort that's been undertaken, both at the racetrack and the McLaren Technology Centre, to turn this year's car into a race winner," said Whitmarsh.

"We're excited and encouraged by the pace and consistency that both drivers have shown in the opening three flyaway races, but the return to Europe brings fresh challenges.

"We're under no illusions we need to improve our qualifying and race pace if we are to remain a threat at the front.

"Additionally, many teams will be readying significant upgrade packages for the Turkish Grand Prix. Nobody can afford to sit still.

"Our pace of development is what can win us this championship, so we go to Turkey determined to ensure our upgrades deliver practical gains and are able to confer a useful margin to both drivers."

A year ago McLaren scored a one-two at the Istanbul Park, which is on the verge of hosting its last event this weekend as it appears the organisers can no longer afford to stage the race.

The result was a fortuitous one as duelling Red Bull team-mates Vettel and Mark Webber ran into one another, allowing by Hamilton and Button.

Whitmarsh, however, feels that result will add significance to this weekend, adding: "Our one-two finish in Turkey last year was one of our most exciting races.

"The memory of that result will doubtless spur on the whole team this weekend."

For Hamilton, the prospect of back-to-back wins in Turkey is not beyond the 26-year-old, although he appreciates the variables on offer, notably Pirelli's degradable tyres that have increased the entertainment factor this season.

"For this race I think we'll be seeing drivers working quite hard to look after their tyres throughout," said Hamilton.

"In particular in Turn Eight, which is fast and bumpy, one of the most demanding corners for tyres anywhere on the calendar.

"There's every reason to believe that the run of interesting and exciting races will continue this weekend."