By Ian Parkes, PA Sport, Bahrain
An error-free drive from Lewis Hamilton gave McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh further cause for optimism as the team continue to right the wrongs that have previously wrecked their season.
Hamilton produced his best performance of the year by finishing a fine fourth in yesterday’s Bahrain Grand Prix behind Jenson Button, Sebastien Vettel and Jarno Trulli.
Given the strength of the Brawn, Red Bull Racing and Toyota cars, it was as good as a still-improving McLaren could muster under the circumstances.
But given they were a country mile behind those teams in pre-season testing, the rapid rate of development over the intervening weeks has to be applauded, even more so when you consider rivals Ferrari and BMW Sauber continue to struggle.
Whitmarsh readily concedes the Sakhir circuit, that again basked in searing temperatures of 36 degrees Celsius, favoured his team, but that was taking nothing away from Hamilton.
“Lewis made no mistakes during the race and pushed aggressively,” assessed Whitmarsh.
“Without the pace to match the Toyotas, Brawns or Red Bulls, fourth place was a very strong result, and it’s even more pleasing that we are steadily moving closer to their pace.
“A podium was in our grasp, but we didn’t quite make it, and though the circuit possibly flattered us a little, we’ve nonetheless made substantial progress over the past few weeks.
“Our competitors won’t stand still, but we will keep improving until we get back to where we expect to be – at the front.”
Hamilton refused to be drawn on whether his drive was at least a positive for himself and the team ahead of Wednesday’s date with the World Motor Sport Council in Paris.
That is when Whitmarsh will speak on behalf of his team as they seek to minimise the blow after being charged with five counts of bringing the sport into disrepute over the ‘lie-gate’ scandal.
“I’m not thinking about Wednesday,” dismissed Hamilton.
“This is just another good boost for the team, for morale, to keep pushing so we can get back to the front.
“I’m obviously delighted with fourth, and it was definitely a good race for the team, an encouraging step forward, but we’ve got to do a lot more work, to keep pushing.
“The Toyotas, Red Bulls and Brawns were so fast in the high-speed corners that it was just impossible to keep up.
“So I wouldn’t suggest we’re really fighting back up there. We have just done a better job than other people as they have made mistakes and we have collected the points.
“At least this was my best result of the season so far, which is great for the team. I’m glad I was able to bring some points home.”
Like every other team, McLaren will head to Barcelona with a number of new upgrades on the car designed to further improve performance.
Hamilton, though, is already warning against a repeat showing of his desert display.
“It feels good to have made a step, to have consistency and we now have a foundation to improve, but we’re still a long way behind with the car,” added Hamilton.
“When we get to Barcelona the gap will be bigger because it’s a high-downforce circuit.
“We should challenge for the top 10 there, but another top-five finish will be harder.”