McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh believes that his team can challenge Red Bull after a remarkable turnaround for the British outfit at the Australian Grand Prix this past weekend. McLaren looked off the pace in the weeks leading up to the race but in the event Lewis Hamilton qualified and finished second behind Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel. Team-mate Jenson Button was fourth.
McLaren's success came as a result of tweaks made to the car in the days ahead of the race. "In truth, we've been in slightly tunnel vision for the last 10 days, because initially we did not believe we could get this upgrade here, we focused on that," Whitmarsh said yesterday. "We'll regroup tomorrow and we'll take a view on what's possible for [the next grand prix at] Malaysia."
McLaren demonstrated an important advantage in terms of tyre wear, with both Hamilton and Button preserving the new Pirelli control tyres well. But for his altercation with Felipe Massa, which earned him a drive-through penalty, Button would have taken the final podium position on Sunday.
"We should have had two cars on the podium here," Whitmarsh continued. "I think Lewis was not quite as quick as Sebastian, but I think until he had the floor damage he was not far from him. I think his tyre usage was slightly lighter than the Red Bulls and Ferraris.
"So that's encouraging, I think that will become more critical for instance in Sepang, which is going to be heavier on tyres. So if some people here were having to make three tyre stops and we were comfortably able to two-stop, maybe that will be an advantage. It depends how it falls."
While Ferrari were left to lick their wounds as their car lacked the pace it had shown in testing, the Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, said he had no worries that his team can continue their form.
"McLaren have made massive steps, they are a great team and they always have strong development during the season," he said. "But we outdeveloped them last season, we did it the year before and we are determined to do it again this year. I feel that we are better equipped than last year to deal with the championship and the undoubted pressures that will come.
"I don't think we can expect another 18 races like we saw here, because you know Ferrari will come back strong. McLaren certainly won't sit still. They made a big step coming here this weekend, but we've got some good stuff in the pipeline and the way the team is working is fantastic."
Whitmarsh also expects to see hard-fought racing. "If we make as much progress in the next 10 days as in the last 10, it'll be easy, won't it?" Whitmarsh joked. "You've got to keep pushing, if Red Bull don't, we'll attack, but I'm sure they're going to keep pushing, they're a strong team."