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Whitmarsh: Dramatic changes for Australia

NEWS STORY
21/03/2011

Mat Coch writes:

Winter testing was a frustrating time for Martin Whitmarsh. Less than impressed with the new car's 'out of the box' performance, the McLaren team boss has admitted that "dramatic changes" have been made to the MP4-26 ahead of the Australian Grand Prix this weekend in an effort to make it more competitive.

"I'm not satisfied with where the car was from a reliability or performance (perspective) in the tests," said Whitmarsh during a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in this morning, adding that the team had made "some fairly dramatic changes to the car" ahead of this weekend's big race.

Noticeably absent from the top of the timing sheets, the MP4-26 has suffered more than its share of reliability problems since its arrival at the second pre-season test in Jerez, while driver-turned-commentator Martin Brundle has called the car as a "mess." Yet despite the apparent problems facing it Whitmarsh still believes the car has potential, singling out the exhaust system as holding the key to unlocking it.

"The car fundamentally isn't a bad car," he insisted. "I believe we need to unlock the exhaust blowing potential, and we had some very creative ideas, some of which could have worked spectacularly well. But in order to work spectacularly well they had to be sufficiently durable to be raceable. Frankly some of the last solutions weren't."

While in 2010 McLaren was the envy of the pitlane with its innovative f-duct, designed to stall the rear wing, reduce drag and increase straight-line speed, twelve months on the paddock is abuzz over blown exhausts.

"Exhaust systems have become a lot more extreme on quite a lot of the cars," admitted Whitmarsh. "We, in particular, had a very extreme solution, but I think they were not delivering, in my opinion, sufficient benefits for their complexity."

A revised and simplified exhaust is only one of a number of upgrades the team is planning for the season opener, a new floor and other "bits and pieces" will hopefully net the squad as much as a second a lap.

But with a range of new tyres, a rapidly changing track, moveable rear wings and KERS, to name but a few of the variables, it will be difficult for the team to assess exactly where it is until the serious running beings on Saturday afternoon. Only then, when all teams are running to much the same plan, will the true picture of where McLaren finds itself become clear.

While rivals Ferrari and Red Bull seem quietly confident Whitmarsh is notably reserved in his predictions for his team's season, artfully sidestepping the question when asked if he expects race wins. "I can't make any predictions," he said, "but you always have the target of going to win races, so we're aiming to win races. At the moment I think it's too difficult to make any predictions. I'm not predicting we'll win it, I'm saying we're aiming to win it."

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