Britain’s Jenson Button has described McLaren’s current form as “embarrassing” following the Spanish Grand Prix where he finished eighth, one place ahead of team mate Sergio Perez.
McLaren, who won the final race of last season with what was considered to be the fastest car on the grid, made major changes to their machine for 2013, while their rivals took an evolutionary approach.
As a result, they have dropped down the grid and currently lie sixth in the constructors’ championship, 102 points behind leaders Red Bull while Button is best placed in the drivers’ standings 64 behind leader Sebastian Vettel.
The team brought a number of updates to Spain but the team still struggled with Perez qualifying ninth and Button 14th. Overall, the team were 0.3 seconds slower in qualifying than in 2012. That compares to Mercedes who were 2.1 seconds quicker while Lotus and Ferrari were generally 1.2 seconds faster.
In the race, the team actually achieved the same finishes as last year. In 2012, Lewis Hamilton finished eighth, ahead of Button. In 2013, Button headed Perez in the same positions.
Interestingly, Button finished 79 seconds down on the leader at the chequered flag in 2013, compared to Hamilton finishing 78 seconds adrift in 2012. Perez finished 81 seconds behind in ninth, compared to Button who finished 85 seconds adrift in the same position the previous year.
Button’s fastest race lap was 1.7 seconds slower than the fastest, set by Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez, and 1.3 seconds off the best set by race winner Alonso. Perez, who did a four-stop strategy, had a best race lap which was seven tenths quicker than Button who did just three stops.
Button said: “It was a bit embarrassing for us because we are not doing a good enough job. We’ve got so much support from the fans. We are doing everything we can to get to the front.
“The formation lap was very slow for some reason but the leader can dictate the pace. It really hurt us in terms of tyre temperatures so the start of the race was tough.
“I got a bad start and dropped back to 17th. I was in a whole world of pain as I couldn’t get any tyre temperature. Once we moved to the harder of the two compounds, the car felt much better.”
McLaren’s sporting director Sam Michael says the team’s problems are partly down to data from the windtunnel not correlating with data from the car on track. It is a problem similar to that which affected Ferrari last year and contributed to their disappointing start to the season.
“You have all these simulation tools and you are constantly trying to close the loop between them and trackside,” said Michael. “I guess with what McLaren have done this year, we took some big changes over the winter and some of those areas in those tools have shown weaknesses because they haven’t predicted thing properly.
“If you look at where our pace has been in the last couple of races, we’ve been about six tenths off in terms of race pace. If you were six tenths off in the 90s, you’d still come second or third.
“Now you come 10th so the game has changed. It tells you that the tools are better than they used to be but small errors will result in much bigger changes on track.”