x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

McLaren continue to play second fiddle to Red Bull

With Red Bull setting the early pace to the 2011 Formula One season, Lewis Hamilton claims that the McLaren team need several races to catch up with their rivals.

Jenson Button, left, and Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren-Mercedes drivers, have both finished second in races this season, but neither man has been able to beat Sebastian Vettel, the world champion, in his Red Bull Racing car, in 2011.
Jenson Button, left, and Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren-Mercedes drivers, have both finished second in races this season, but neither man has been able to beat Sebastian Vettel, the world champion, in his Red Bull Racing car, in 2011.

SHANGHAI // Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, theorised that "the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step".

At the Shanghai International Circuit yesterday, McLaren-Mercedes showed that while their journey forward continues, they will need to stop stepping and start skipping if they intend to catch Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull Racing car.

The first step of their journey came in Melbourne when Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, stood on the second step of the podium behind Vettel.

The next step came two weeks later in Malaysia when Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion, finished second, again with Vettel taking the victory.

This weekend in China, McLaren had hoped a new updates package would allow their third step to spring them above second and stand them atop the podium.

However, yesterday, Vettel, the 23-year-old world champion, secured pole position once again. And the margin between Red Bull and McLaren was substantial once again.

"We haven't made much of a step this weekend, but a step is a step, so it's a positive at least," Hamilton said.

"Obviously, we need to make some more steps forward, but I think there are some good things in the pipeline."

McLaren's predicament is that whenever they appear to have improved, their rivals have done likewise.

Lao Tzu might have said, "Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid of standing still."

Vettel, however, preferred: "Teams like McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes, obviously they are not as happy as they want to be and they are pushing very hard, so to stay where we are, we have to push harder than them.".

Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, has spoken in recent weeks of "an arms race" as the various manufacturers develop their cars as quickly as possible in order to catch Red Bull and emerge superior on a Sunday.

Hamilton yesterday said that while the car's performance so far makes him happier than he "could ever have hoped", he does not think McLaren will be winning the ultimate race for a few more months.

"It's clear since 2009 that [Red Bull] had a ridiculously fast car and so we are pushing as hard as we can to close the gap," he said.

"I'm sure it will take several races before we get to where they are now and I'm sure they will also make many, many steps forward, but we will continue in the chase and hope our development rate can be as fast as theirs, if not better."

McLaren rely heavily on sponsor investment to aid their car development. The Woking-based constructors' parent company, The McLaren Group, is part-owned by the Mumtalakat Holding Company, a sovereign wealth fund of the Bahrain government.

Whitmarsh was yesterday forced to answer questions on the unresolved situation regarding the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix and whether the unrest in the kingdom had affected commercial investment.

A decision on whether Bahrain's postponed race is reinstated to the calendar will be made on May 1. The McLaren team principal said it was not his place to comment on the politics of the country: "We are a race team and if the championship takes us there we will race there. If it doesn't then we will focus on the other races."

He said he can see no way of it returning to the calendar unless the season is extended.

Whitmarsh also said no sponsors had raised the issue of the Bahraini ownership, adding that "we are in good shape and we know where the investment is coming from for all of our programmes within the Group."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

11am, Chinese Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi Sports 6