McLaren keeping its hopes up

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:20 PM ET

TORONTO - One might think that after the massive victory by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel at Australia in the opening race of the 2011 Formula One world championship, rival McLaren would be apprehensive about their chances as the season moves forward.

Not so, according to McLaren team boss Jonathan Neale.

In fact Neale said in a teleconference call on Tuesday that his team is going full steam ahead to catch up and pass the upstart competitor from Austria.

Neale is also fully aware that it is an uphill battle and it may not get done in time to beat Red Bull this week at the Malaysian Grand Prix.

“We (didn’t have) the quickest car out there (in Australia),” he said. “We are working very hard over the next few races to try and make sure that Lewis (Hamilton) and Jenson (Button) can qualify on the front row.

“I think there is still a reasonable amount of work to do.”

Neale said the team does think that the gap between McLaren and Red Bull isn’t as vast as it might seem. He said that for the most part he believes the team came out of winter testing with a pretty good baseline from which to work.

“There are some areas of the car that we are satisfied with,” he said. “We were pleased with the performance of our car (in Australia) even though we didn’t win the race.”

Neale also thinks that Mercedes and Ferrari are also on track to improve their performances from Australia.

“We are not for one minute thinking that we have seen the best of Ferrari or Mercedes at this stage,” he said of McLaren’s traditional F-1 rivals. “We watched each other carefully through winter testing and I am absolutely sure that both of those teams have more to bring.”

A question mark for both Red Bull and McLaren this week is the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) that both will employ at the Sepang circuit.

McLaren’s Button opined this week that the McLaren horsepower boosting system is superior to Red Bull’s. Neale isn’t so certain.

“Certainly I don’t know anything about (Red Bull’s) system,” Neale said. “I think from the basis of Mercedes Benz, which builds our system, with an extra 12 months of experience compared to others then there should be advantages to do with systems integration and packaging.

“But that is a very difficult thing to quantify because we don’t have any comparative information.”

Red Bull chose not to use the KERS package at Australia and still won going away, so Neale does have reason to fear the energy drink squad may be even faster this week.

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dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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