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An error in pre-season testing left McLaren with false hope after the opening day in Jerez. The all-new MP4-28 set the early pace but it has become clear in Australia that the team is struggling.
Both drivers have complained about understeer, balance and poor ride quality, symptoms typically associated with mechanical rather than aerodynamic design.
McLaren's problems became apparent to the team during testing, though not until the evening of the first day when a mistake was picked up in the car's suspension set up.
Jenson Button finished more than eight tenths clear of the pack at Jerez in early February but that night the team realised a suspension component had been fitted back to front. According to the team this artificially lowered the front of the car, playing to its strengths and in turn allowing it to turn faster lap times.
With the mistake corrected the car has never been as quick.
However, it's not simply a matter of deliberately running the car in that configuration, correct or not. While the lower ride height worked on the smooth Jerez circuit it would not work at bumpier venues.
Indeed the teams' struggles on Friday in Melbourne were directly linked to the team trying to replicate the Jerez set up, a move which failed to pay dividends.
McLaren has been so far off the pace some have suggested the team could revert to the successful 2012 car. Although it won seven Grands Prix the MP4-27 reached a plateau in its development curve, meaning the team had extracted everything they feasibly could have from the car. While it may currently be faster than the MP4-28 it has far less potential.
Furthermore the 2012 car would need to be crash tested to 2013 standards before it would be allowed back on track, which is not the work of a moment. By the time McLaren had completed the necessary formalities the new car would be just as fast, if not faster.
"The McLaren rumour circulating is really a bit of a reach," agrees Pitpass' technical expert Matt Somerfield. "They really needed to understand the current car.
"We must also remember that McLaren by far and away have the largest evolution for 2013 and so they will require a longer gestation period to understand their car," he added. "Coupled to this is the team's understanding of the switch to Pull Rod Suspension at the front of the new car.
"Having made the switch to this arrangement in 2012 Ferrari not only has a year's advantage they too struggled initially with the Pull Rod arrangement."
The pain therefore looks set to continue for McLaren, at least in the short term. However, as Ferrari showed last year a slow start does not necessarily write off the season.
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