Lewis Hamilton has revealed the extent of McLaren’s early-season problems following his thrilling victory on Sunday, one which has thrown open the Formula One world championship.
McLaren were so far off the pace during testing in Barcelona before the start of the season that they wondered how they would compete with Red Bull, last year’s dominant team and who still lead this season’s drivers’ and constructors’ tables.
Hamilton, who counted Sunday’s win among his top three, said: “If you really, really knew how bad the car was behaving in the winter … you would get to 10 laps if you were lucky. The reliability was a disaster. While we were being quite cool about it, it was worrying for sure. Then they pushed very hard and in the space of two weeks it was incredible what they were able to bring to Australia. We worked so hard. Our desire to win is huge.
“It still feels absolutely amazing to have a car beneath us that can compete,” he added. “We’ve still got some way to go to close the gap to the Red Bulls but we had the better strategy in China and were able to execute it really well. The team will keep on pushing as hard as ever as we head into the European season.”
Asked if he thought, before the season started, that he was capable of winning its third grand prix, he replied: “No. But I am looking forward to many, many more great races like this and giving a really true showing of the strength of our team.”
Hamilton’s first win since Spa in August, eight months ago, broke a sequence of four successive wins for Red Bull’s Vettel and, according to Hamilton, will revitalise the team going into the mini-break before the next race in Turkey on 8 May. “It’s perfect for that. You can’t measure what a win like this does to a group of guys. Even I underestimate what difference it makes. But I hear it from all the people. And I can only imagine how they’re reacting back at the factory.
“They’ll come into work in the morning with a smile on their face. And when you come into work with a smile on your face I think you do your work that much better than if it’s been a doom and gloom day.
“So this boost will last really well through this little break that we have and hopefully we can make another step closer to these guys [Red Bull]. I’ve just told the guys exactly what we need. And now it’s their job to find it.”
Hamilton’s upbeat mood was echoed by his team-mate Jenson Button who, despite a sometimes difficult afternoon, in which he entered the Red Bull pit for a tyre change, still finished among the points in fourth place. “For me, it wasn’t a perfect race, but Lewis did a really great job and I think that helps with the motivation for the team,” he said. “I think the team will be very happy. Not just the guys here but those back at the factory.
“They have got a few weeks now to really work on a few developments for Turkey and there will be such a buzz, the excitement of building a car that can really fight the Red Bulls.”
The challenging Istanbul circuit has not always brought success for Hamilton but he will remember winning there last year, with Button second, following a crash between the Red Bull pair, Vettel and Mark Webber. Again tyre strategy will be vital and Red Bull, although they know they still have the faster car, will be mindful that they were outwitted in Shanghai. And they also have problems with Kers.
Button said: “I feel very positive going to Turkey. Lewis and I had a real ding-dong there. We’ve had a couple this year, so hopefully it will be the same there. If we do it means we are both competitive. I just hope we’ll be doing it in front of the Red Bulls and won’t make the same mistake they did.”
Hamilton added: “I’ve always been competitive there. I’ve been on the first two rows pretty much every time. In 2006 I came second there in one of the best races in my life, in GP2.”
The McLaren pair sounded breezy alongside the disconsolate Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso. “Our race pace is too slow,” he said. “We know we have to improve to get to the front. McLaren and Mercedes have managed it. Clearly, aerodynamics is our achilles heel at the moment. The car has not changed, while others have made progress.