• Driver says McLaren car will not be competitive until May
• Whitmarsh says it is too early to write off team’s chances
The Formula One season begins in Australia in two weeks’ time, but Lewis Hamilton has admitted that McLaren will not have a competitive car until May at the earliest. McLaren have been trailing Ferrari and Red Bull in pre-season testing and their new car has been described as “a mess” by the television pundit Martin Brundle.
Hamilton’s judgment came close to that on Thursday when he said that McLaren may have to wait until the fourth race of the season, in Turkey, before they can take on the fastest cars on the grid.
He said: “We have some good things in the pipeline for when we come back to Europe, so it could be after three races. But you have to remember that everyone else is moving forward as well, bringing updates. When they come back to Europe they always bring updates, especially when they come to Barcelona. If we do double what they do it will still take a few more races. It’s difficult to see where everyone is because everyone is doing different things.”
According to Hamilton, McLaren could be competing with Renault for a “best of the rest” consolation prize. He said: “Red Bull are very, very quick. Ferrari are very, very quick. Toro Rosso looks like a really good car. The Renault looks a similar pace to us. I don’t know where Mercedes were today.”
Hamilton said that by the time McLaren catch up, it may be too late. “You look at Jenson’s [Button] season [2009, when he won the world title with Braun] and he had six wins and he was gone. After the first six races you couldn’t catch him. You just have to be hopeful that that doesn’t happen.”
The McLaren team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, refused to write off his team’s chances.
“It’s simply too early to say anything definitive about the MP4-26 or indeed about any other 2011 Formula One car,” he said. “One of the most significant performance factors facing every team for 2011 was the introduction of the new Pirelli tyres. I admit that the introduction of the MP4-26 has been affected by a few reliability issues.”