They may have lost Lewis Hamilton, but McLaren moved forward into the future with a proud and confident message, underlining their 50 years of F1 heritage, as they launched their 2013 challenger today. Jenson Button said he aims to win the world championship and believes the car capable of it.
The new silver McLaren does not have Hamilton’s name on the side for the first time in seven years, instead Jenson Button and Sergio Perez lead the challenge against the Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes team.
The 50th anniversary was acknowledged by a cavalcade of former McLaren race winning cars, including title winners from Hamilton, Senna, Hakkinen and Fittipaldi.
Button has increased pressure on him this year, leading the team with a relatively inexperienced team mate. He knows the stakes are high, that the title race is likely to be close and that he will need to find more consistency in results than he managed last year in order to challenge principally Vettel and Alonso for the title.
“When you have a good possibility to fight for the world championship it’s exciting, It may look like last year’s car, but under the skin it’s completely different,” said Button, who won the last race of 2012 in Brazil. “That’s why it’s so exciting. They’ve changed enough to make a difference. You go into the season aiming to win the world championship and thats’s what we are doing.
“We had some good races and some pretty damn bad races last year. I think the 2013 tyres will work better for my style of driving and for the way this car works.
“I’m the more experienced driver in the team. We have 12 days of testing and I do six and Checo (Perez) does six. We have to learn the car together. The feelings I got from last year and the development direction the car went in are good for my style.”
Sergio Perez looked relaxed, but made it clear that he has been hard at work getting up to speed with the team. He was proud to see his name on the side of the car, quite a moment for the 23 year old Mexican, who is ten years younger than his team mate.
“It’s been a very busy few months, it’s hard to believe I’m part of the McLaren family with a great history,” said Perez, who said he has done 20 days in the McLaren simulator already. “I have never been this excited going into a season.
“Qualifying last year at times was not good, I go back to the issue I’ve had all my career with getting the tyres into their working range. But we have learned a lot from those problems. We have a tyre in 2013 that does help me, it has a wider working range and that helps me.”
Many of the team’s senior engineers were present; Sam Michael, Tim Goss and Neil Oatley prominent on the front row, but Paddy Lowe was notable by his absence. The technical boss has been linked with a move to Mercedes in recent weeks.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh confirmed that Lowe would remain with the McLaren team in 2013, “Paddy will be part of the team this year, it’s less certain beyond that. We will have some certainty in due course. He felt it was not appropriate to be here, there is a lot of media!”
Lowe’s contract is believed to run to the end of 2013. If he is to leave he will not be part of McLaren’s 2014 planning and will probably be forced to go on gardening leave well ahead of 2014; this will hurt his knowledge of the 2014 technologies.
Whitmarsh acknowledged that the team has disappointed when it comes to winning titles. This year they have been more ambitious than last year, according to Jonathan Neale. Last year reliability was a real problem for the team, with many points lost, particularly for Hamilton.
“We have won 20 world championships, but recently not won enough,” he said. “Last year we started the season with the fastest car and ended with the fastest, along the way we had the fastest car at various points, we won races but didn’t secure the championship.
“This year people are mindful of that. This car is an evolution, the people here have been making sure we have reliability. If you don’t score points you slip behind. Fernando and Ferrari never had the fastest car but they maximised the points and we have worked hard at that for this year.”
Whitmarsh urged Perez to “work hard, learn from Jenson and enjoy it!” Whitmarsh said that the team had “two number ones”, but added that Button has confidence that he can win this year’s world championship. Button described Perez as “talented” and eulogised some of his performances in 2012. He said that he has no doubts that McLaren will bring out the best in the Mexican.
Whitmarsh acknowledged that in the past McLaren has had driver pairings which have had good chemistry, while other relationships have soured. He feels that there is every reason to believe that these two will work together well.
Perhaps surprisingly, there were no new Mexican sponsors visible on the car; Vodafone still has a significant amount of coverage on the car, as does the GSK brand Lucozade.
The car begins testing next week in Jerez, the first of three test sessions ahead of the first race on March 17, an event Button won last year.