Much has been made about McLaren Mercedes test times during the preseason testing run up to the Formula One Season. The rumors are beginning to look like fact - the new McLaren Mercedes car is slow.
The massive rule changes in Formula One this offseason have resulted in a clean slate for the teams in the series. It was thought the teams with the larger budgets would develop their cars more fully than those with smaller budgets. To this end, we've seen the big budget teams like Ferrari, BMW and even Toyota near the front of the pack.
McLaren Mercedes has a large budget, but the time put up all preseason have been slow. The car has regularly ended up on the bottom of the time sheets. Fans of the team claimed sandbagging was going on. Critics of the team claimed the new car was a dog. Nobody, of course, really knew anything other than those in the team. The semi-retired Ron Dennis suggested all was well and the car would round in to shape just before the race. On the final day of testing, however, the new McLaren finished a full half second behind the only other car on the track - a Williams! That is not a good sign.
The truth of the dire situation is beginning to be revealed. Key figures at McLaren have begun to try to prepare fans for some less than stellar racing. Lewis Hamilton has admitted he doesn't expect to challenge for a win. Team leader Whitmarsh has suggested it will be a tough race. The stunning statement, however, comes from a person who really knows what is going on.
Norbert Haug is the head of the Mercedes side of the team. When questioned, he uttered an answer that simply is difficult to believe. Haug expects Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen to qualify in the back third of the field. The back third! When does he expect the car to become competitive? Not until the European races begin...at the earliest. Yikes. This means the new McLaren Mercedes is not just slow...it is a dog.
As one would expect, McLaren is talking up the fact it plans to develop the car significantly and this will result in the pace picking up. This is a dubious statement at best. Why? There is testing allowed during the season this year! The team can build parts on the computer, but trying out new parts on race weekend is a very tough way to pick up the pace.
The biggest issue now is how far is McLaren behind the pace? If the car is a second or less, the team can come back. If the car is two to three seconds slow as has been suggested by preseason testing, it is going to be a very long season. Somewhere, Fernando Alonso is probably smiling.