Martin Whitmarsh and Sam Michael admit McLaren's lack of pace is a worry
Team struggling to understand how to get best out of new car
By William Esler
Last Updated: 15/03/13 3:42pm
Worried about hitting a development plateau had they opted for an evolution of the 2012 car for this season - like most teams have - McLaren have embraced a completely new design philosophy with the MP4-28.
The idea behind the more radical step is that they can upgrade the car throughout the entire season, however, the team have found themselves well off the pace on the opening day of the new season in Melbourne.
"I think we should be worried about the pace," Whitmarsh told Sky Sports F1.
"It is a tough day in the office for everyone at the moment, we are lacking grip and there is a lot of head scratching at the moment, but certainly we are lacking pace.
"I think we are still learning and there is a lot we still need to learn about this car. But we have struggled frankly to quite understand how it is performing - understanding the tyres and the car.
"We took the decision to make a lot of changes and knew that to some extent that would put us back a little bit, but we were hoping to get on top of that before the first race. As of today we are still undoubtedly struggling and that is something we need to gather good information on and work through it this weekend."
Sporting Director Sam Michael has likened McLaren's woes to those of Ferrari at the start of 2012 - when the Scuderia found themselves two seconds off the pace during testing with their new car - but he expects them to be competing at the front before too long.
"Definitely, we're not where we need to be at this point in time," he admitted.
"We made quite a few changes to the car over the winter and we still believe they'll go good for the course of the season.
"We don't know to be honest, until we go through a race weekend. In practice, we've not done much more than what we've done in testing. You don't have knowledge of what people have done until you've gone through an official session (i.e. qualifying and the race).
"Whenever you change something that's very well optimised, it is a bit more difficult to get it right straightaway. That happened to Ferrari last winter, to some extent, but by the fourth or fifth race they were there.
"I think most of the understanding of where we need to improve is there. I think a lot of the differences to last year's car we understand pretty well, but to achieve what we need to achieve...we're still working away on that."
Speaking in the Team Principals' Press Conference after practice, Whitmarsh described it as one of his most difficult days in F1.
"I would say this is one of the hardest days I can recall and we don't have time to summarise it all now," he said.
"I would say we lacking in overall grip and consistency, we had understeer, poor ride and it was a very difficult day. It was a day when we didn't move forward during the course of the day and that is a bit of a concern but we have a lot of data to work through long and hard tonight.
"We should have a base we can improve on and hopefully we can do that tomorrow but it was a disappointing and tough day for the team.
"It is obviously better to start a season competitive, but we are a strong team and we will find a way through."
McLaren topped the timesheets on two of the 12 days of pre-season testing, but speaking ahead of practice, Jenson Button felt that masked some of their performance problems.
"The first two tests weren't great really because we had so much to test. We had so much mileage to put on parts we couldn't do any set-up work," he said.
"The last test was much better but we haven't run the car the same for two days in terms of set-up. It's not been perfect but on the last day of testing I got a much better feel for the car.
"I found something with the set-up and got a direction with the car I liked. But if you look at the testing times, there were certain times that we definitely could not have done in testing in Barcelona."