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McLaren – We can win races this year
McLaren – We can win races this year
Posted By:   |  27 Apr 2009   |  6:17 am GMT  |  20 comments

Bahrain was a good weekend for the McLaren team. Although fourth place will not feel like win for them after the slow start to the season, the team is heading in the right direction and was only a few tenths off the pace here.

The circuit somewhat flattered their car, with its long straights and lack of high speed corners, but all teams agree that McLaren have clearly made a big step forward. As team principal Martin Whitmarsh explains below they have done this by making constant small steps at every race, whereas teams like Ferrari and BMW have put all their effort into one massive upgrade for Spain.

McLaren has another step for Spain, including the double diffuser, so it will be interesting to see if that takes them a step close to the pace of Brawn, Toyota and Red Bull. The gap is now only around 4/10ths of a second per lap, having been over two seconds before the season started…

How satisfied are you with the progress which led to this fourth place in Sakhir?
“If you had asked me in Barcelona (test) would I have accepted a strong fourth place here, competitive with all the cars and fourth in the constructors then I would have snatched your hand off, but being McLaren we want to win. It’s not good enough for us. We’ve made steps in the right direction but we need to keep pushing.”

Looking at the progress you have made and Lewis’ position in the points table, you must be thinking that Lewis has a pretty good chance of winning the world championship?

“We have to be a little bit wary about this circuit. Maybe we were a little bit flattered here anyway, Barcelona is going to be tough. I know that we have a decent step forward for Barcelona but I’m sure the others have too,

“We’ve made good progress and if we can continue that progress I think we have to be in a strong position. Certainly I’m not one of those people who was saying after two races that the championship was over.

But we’ve got to be frank about it, as a race team we have thrown everything we could at it. There are 12 performance modifications on this car from last weekend and that takes a huge amount of effort. We’ve certainly thrown a lot of effort at it compared to some of our competitors. If you do that, sometimes it can be to the detriment of longer term development, where you stand back and make bigger incremental steps.

You mean you have gone for a small gain everywhere, while the opposition is focussing on one big step for Barcelona? Why did you do it that way?
“As a race team it is not in our character not to come to a race and throw everything we can at it. I think what it does is whilst it is not the most efficient development process, it creates an environment which I think you can sense here, you don’t sense it’s a losing team, people in our garage sense that we are heading in the right direction. It gives momentum to the drivers, the team to think, ‘Right we can do this. We can overhaul these people and we can win some races this year.’ Once we’ve done that we’ll see where we are in the championship.”

Are you worried about Wednesday’s disciplinary hearing?
“To be honest I’ve been concentrating on going racing and I haven’t been worrying about that and I’m going to concentrate on things that are under my control and that hopefully we can improve.”

There have have been a lot of meetings this weekend with FIA. Is this all part of a process that has been going on in the build up to Wednesday?
“ I think it’s safe to assume that, yes. We are trying to build a relationship with the FIA and beyond that we already have. On KERS and a lot of regulation issues we have always had that relationship and I think we have to build in some other areas to that relationship to make sure that we steer this team in the right direction.

Will the relationship with the FIA improve
“I’ve been working with the FIA recently and I’m grateful for the support they have given me and this team. I think that hopefully that is the start of building a better relationship for the future.”

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It seems as though the McLaren is only improving becasue of other cars not doing so untill Barcelona. Will the other teams upgrades catch them back up to McLaren and leave them still behind? Or will McLaren have updates of their own to excel them further forword?

It's like all the teams have the updates at different times and in Barcelona is where most teams will apply them.

What are the chances that McLaren will still be slightly ahead after Barcelona?


I think 4/10ths of a second per lap is generous for the disadvantage McLaren have in comparison to Brawn, Toyota and Red Bull. I personally believe that it's more like 2.5/10ths off the Brawn, 4/10ths off the Toyota and less than a 1/10th off the Red Bull.

Webber for instance, who we know to be a half decent driver was 2/10ths off Hamilton's fastest lap, whilst Vettel was 1.5/10ths quicker. It all suggests the McLaren is very close to the Red Bull in dry race pace.


James, its is slightly off the topic, but do you think BMW and Ferrari will be able to make big gains in spain?

As a BMW fan i am very upset at what has happened to them this season, how can they go from looking like a getting a comfprtable second in Melbourne to finishing dead last in bahrain!!!???


Hi James

Will be very interesting to see what improvements McLaren makes over the coming races compared to the improvements of the Brawn and Red Bull. Guaranteed to be a great second half of the season, that is for sure. Also it's not just the speed of that Brawn but it looks totally bullet proof....

By the way.. off topic... miss you commentary on the F1... perhaps you would do a podcast and post it on our site...( to imbed here...

Just a thought...


I'd like to see Macca up there fighting for race wins - the more drivers the better - but I still think they have a way to go before they catch the Brawns and the Red Bulls .... especially if the teams make progress with their own development programs, and especially if Newey gets the double diffuser right on the RBR.

Lewis had good pace on Sunday in a relentlessly processional 'race' ... it is such a shame that meaningful overtaking looks to be so difficult outside of the early laps ... but can we really expect other races in the future to be so uniquely hot and so uneventful? Think we really need to see what the whole paddock brings to Barna/Monaco before we have an indication of how Macca really stack up against the rest of the teams.

Hamilton is a long way behind JB and will have to do a lot of work to close the gap ..... with the Brawn toughness and reliability, is that really likely to happen?

Think the season is set for a new WDC between Button and Vettel.


"“As a race team it is not in our character not to come to a race and throw everything we can at it."
- Whitmarsh

Is it possible I am the only person who sees the irony in the above comment, in light of recent events ?


Hi James,

I do think Lewis is flattering the car at the moment....where was Heikki? Also, the McLaren suited the layout of Bahrain aerodynamically & through having a very good KERS.
If they manage to achieve good downforce with their Barcelona updates then they may start to threaten for a win...but I wouldn't want to bet against Red Bull & Brawn raising the bar a fair bit higher.

It's going to be a very exciting race in Barcelona...after a very busy Friday & revealing Saturday!
What a great season so far!


I think that despite the fact that the current leading teams will surely develop their car as McLaren tries to close the gap, McLaren have traditionally outdeveloped most teams throughout the season. The reason for this is no mystery, but it is true that McLaren are generally more compettititve in the latter half of the season than they have been early in the seaosn. There are exceptions of course but my point is that after such a bad start I think it is resonable to expect that McLaren will edge closer to the smaller front runner teams as he season wears on.

Hopefully with Dennis gone, Mranello Max will back off and let McLaren compete on equal footing with he rest of the field.


I'm off topic with this but would love to know your thoughts re. Flav's "FOTA wants to ban KERS for 2010" comment!
Apparently McLaren & BMW are not backing him.
There's talk of introducing a standard system for 2010...doesn't this undermine the whole point of KERS? i.e. Competition is the best way of accelerating the development of these KERS's in order for the technology to filter through & benefit road cars.

If Max does introduce a standard system then hasn't the whole KERS race been a white Elephant & thus give credence to Flav's comments on it?

Loving the stuff James...keep it coming! 🙂


Ultimately you win the F1 WDC in the "business" end of the season and although many teams will have their updates at Barcelona, its the development AFTER that which will decide the WDC

Combined with season long development is driver form - delivering key points in the 2nd half of the season, getting the most from the car.

For examples, see Kimi in 2007 and Alonso in 2008 - both drivers with a strong second half to the season.

The difference being that Kimi had reasonable points in the first half of 2007 so he won the WDC (if I recall he was just over 20 points behind around the middle of the season).

Alonso didnt have that base to build from last year but he did win more WDC points than any other driver in the 2nd half of the season

Lewis I am sure will be hoping he can stay within reasonable reach of the WDC leader before his car can win races - if he can and the developmnt continues he will have a chance. If the car loses gound or if the WMSC punish him indirectly on Weds to ban him from races then it will probably be all over.


I do agree when ppl say Lewis is flattering the car.
He did this last year aswell!

They know where the problem is, and a double decker diffuser could be a big help, and I believe they will win a race this year!

Lewis ain't winning, but he's having a very strong season anyway!


Yeah, that would be the same McClaren that has never kept pace with Lewis all season.

And the same Heikki that struggled to be a decent wingman for Lewis last season - apart from the odd race where he woke up.

For Heikki read Piquet and Bourdais - drivers being destroyed by far better team mates in the same car


Paul, whilst your observations are absolutely correct - they are only correct for the Bahrain circuit.

That track is well known for needing low speed traction, good under braking cars, and raw power - McClaren has that in spades and on that basis is actually probably better than the cars you mention. It loses its speed in the high speed (more aero) corners - which is the issue with the McLaren.

Refer to Lewis remarks after the race at the weekend, "they were so quick through the high speed section" - referring to the Toyota and Red Bull he was chasing for 80% of the GP. Lewis slowly re-caught them in the other sections which is why his times were comparable over a whole lap


I think that's being optimistic. I would have thought your comment holds more weight if you averaged the Q2/Q3 times. Fastest laps alone mean nothing. You had Kimi or Nick Heidfeld last year be nowhere in the race, and yet a fast lap towards the end on the soft tyre. Heidfeld had fastest laps but only the 3rd fastest car. There are always so many factors that go into a fastest lap. Tyre wear due to fuel loads, which combines with strategy (2 or 3 stop) combined with traffic.

Vettel for example, spent both stints on the faster tyre behind another car "screwing his tyres" in the turbulance. That "may" have affected his pace, once he was finally clear of the traffic for the few laps before his stops due to tyre wear. According to him it did, because the tyres are very sensative this year (not helping overtaking either).. 🙁

Trulli and Glock were in clear air on very short first stints, even on a greener track they were still quick. But the fuel load and clear air played a big part of it.

Button's fastest lap seems pretty representive, no low fuel loads or traffic issues.

Lewis likewise, except for his second stint where he was behind Vettel and could have also had tyre wear problems.

Then there is the biggest factor.. 1 quicker lap doesn't mean a car is faster. It's consistancy during a stint and especially the pace on the high fuel load at the start of a stint that decides if you get to point B quicker then another car. Jenson in Sepang was a rare exception when he went 1 second quicker in clear air, but such dominant pace is rare.

It's hard to conclude much except that all 3 cars are extremely close in pace, which means traffic and driver errors can decide the result as much as if the car is quicker or not. Maybe it will change in Barcelona though.

Thomas in Adelaide

I'm actually glad the BMW's are struggling this year because it minimizes the time I have to spend looking at that hideous car.

Don't get me wrong, i like the team and the drivers but that car is just uuuuuugly.

They should have known it would be slow. Fast cars are inherently beautiful. Just look at the Redbull car.

Ugly cars are usually slow.


Both cars were damaged. But I agree they are going backwards.


"Where was Heikki?" I thought he was in a damaged McLaren. So that would explain it.


I was using fastest lap data as that's what James had used in this handy post:


"Or will McLaren have updates of their own to excel them further forward?"
MW said in the above text "I know that we have a decent step forward for Barcelona". It's believe that they'll have a new floor/double defuser...

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