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Dennis remains confident McLaren will challenge

NEWS STORY
09/03/2006

Although little can be read into pre-season testing, certainly as far as lap times are concerned, it would appear that as far as reliability, Renault and Honda lead the way.

Speaking on the eve of the first day of the 2006 season, and fresh from securing a one-year sponsorship deal with Emirates Airline, McLaren boss Ron Dennis has said that he remains confident his team will be challenging from the outset.

"We think there has been some showmanship from some of the teams," he told reporters in Manama today, "but, at the end of the day, if we are not there we won't be too far away."

In testing, there are too many variants - fuel load, weather conditions, number of laps etc - to make any sort of accurate comparison regarding lap times, however, reliability is another matter, with Renault and Honda emerging clear favourites, whilst other teams, including McLaren, have struggled, especially when it comes to races distances.

"There is an understanding of fuel loads and tyre types between the Michelin teams," Dennis continued, "so you are able to see patterns. We think there are three (Michelin shod) teams that are really close together.

"We are not quite sure of the pecking order of the cars on Bridgestone tyres," he admitted, "but it appears that Michelin at the moment still have an edge.

"The car's got progressively more competitive," he said of the MP4-21, which has gradually improved following a 'shaky' start to its test programme, which resulted in unflattering comments from both Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Whatever the outcome of this race, we will be stronger in every race through the season," Dennis continued. "We spent a great deal of initial testing on high fuel loads. The car's quite innovative and there were a few systems that we wanted to make sure worked exactly as designed. We had some initial reliability issues that were apparent and there was no point in compounding those in pushing hard on the engine. So that all reflected in relatively slow lap times in the initial part of testing. We got to grips with the problems and the lap times dropped."

At the main tests ahead of the season opener, Honda, in particular, has set a blistering pace, with Anthony Davidson posting a new unofficial lap record at Valencia last week. In previous years teams, for various reasons, have sometimes given a false impression in pre-season testing, where the legality of the cars is not checked, unlike at race events.

Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport director, does not believe that this has been the case this year: "I don't think that a professional team is doing underweight testing these days," he said. "I fully understand if a team needs to impress a sponsor or whatever, but you are cheating yourself at the end of the day."

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