• Jenson Button and Hamilton are not as quick as Ferrari and Red Bull pace
• One testing session left before first grand prix on 27 March
Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button admit they are well off the pace being set by Ferrari and Red Bull, there is only one testing session left before the Formula One season opens in Australia on 27 March.
McLaren’s two former world champions head to Barcelona next week in an attempt to bridge the gap but after spending most of last season in vain pursuit of Red Bull’s double championship-winning team they know they are up against it.
At a wet and windy Dunsfold aerodrome in Surrey – better known as the venue used by Stig and the rest of the Top Gear team – Hamilton dredged up a watery smile when he said: “It is always difficult to catch people. Wherever we are right now, we will have to do twice as much work with our update package for the first race because so will they. We have to close the gap and it makes the challenge a little bit tougher. But it’s nothing we can’t do.”
Button also has misgivings about the readiness of the McLaren car. At least the cancellation of the Bahrain grand prix, which was due to take place on 13 March, has given the team more time to get rid of the glitches.
Button said: “It’s tricky because we haven’t had enough testing in the car to do proper set-up work which is disappointing. It’s been bitty in testing. We have improved it but not enough.
“The next test is really important to us to see what this car can do and hopefully we will be ready for the first race. If we went racing now we wouldn’t be quite ready because we have not done enough testing.”
When McLaren tested in Barcelona last month they were hampered by exhaust and front-end grip problems which resulted in them running 300 fewer test miles than Ferrari.
Hamilton, who was still in title contention for most of last season, said: “One day we did only 38 laps. That’s nothing major but we have had mechanical issues at the back of the car and that has really hampered us. In the last test we got 170 laps so we have picked up but we are behind on mileage and we can’t catch it up on the testing left. But hopefully it will not hinder us too much.”
Ferrari are still smarting over the tactical error in the last race of the 2010 season that led to Fernando Alonso handing the title to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel; they also narrowly missed out in 2008 when Hamilton pipped Felipe Massa.
That means the biggest name in Formula One is more determined than ever to regain the title, while Red Bull have the extra confidence of last season’s double success. Hamilton said: “I’m sure Seb’s confidence has gone up because for the second year in a row he has the fastest car, a ridiculously fast car. But so does Fernando.”