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McLaren unwilling to be drawn on development plans

NEWS STORY
05/04/2011

Despite a positive weekend in Melbourne, McLaren are not resting on their laurels on the development front, said Managing Director Jonathan Neale in the latest Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in.

Speaking from Kuala Lumpur, Neale refused to be drawn on the likelihood of McLaren returning to the complex 'octopus' exhaust configuration the team dropped for the Australian race weekend.

"It would be foolish of me to give away future engineering and development plans," Neale said. "I'm not about to reveal where we're going in development ... it would be unwise to speculate."

One thing Neale was willing to talk about was the fact that McLaren have a lot of work to do if they want to win the championships come Interlagos in November.

"We're working hard to ensure that Lewis and Jenson can get on the front row in qualifying," said Neale, having admitted that McLaren were not yet in a position to match Red Bull on single lap pace. "We're satisfied in some areas, but at this stage it's all about how do we exploit the tyres, how do we get the downforce on the car?"

The pursuit of speed is always part of the ultimate goal for an F1 team, but Neale pointed to reliability as one of McLaren's key aims at this point in the season. The MP4-26 first covered a race distance during the Australian Grand Prix, and on the day the bond between chassis and bib failed on Hamilton's car. The team was lucky that he was able to bring the car home in P2 despite the disintegrating floor.

"We're looking for a car that's as reliable as possible at this stage," Neale admitted. "We were pleased with the performance of our car (in Melbourne). It was a real confidence boost."

But Formula 1 is about looking forwards, not backwards, and Neale is concerned that - so far - "we've not seen the best of Ferrari or Mercedes. Both teams have more to bring."

It is far too early in the season to make sweeping statements about performance, the McLaren managing director said. The early part of the season is about "trying to find industry trends, if you will. We should know the favourites by Turkey."

"As with most years," Neale continued, "a number of teams are working on different aspects of the car. We want to explore and understand why a team has gone in a certain direction."

Looking ahead to the Malaysian Grand Prix, scheduled to take place at the Sepang International Circuit, Neale admitted that the team's biggest concern was the chaotic weather the race has become known for.

"What we expect to struggle with most is the changeable conditions. We're going to be running when there's a high possibility of rain," he said. "Looking at a wet race this early (in the season), it will be interesting to see how the Pirellis work."

While the teams got some experience of running in torrential rain during the final Barcelona pre-season tests, the rubber of choice was the full-wet compound. None of the teams have been able to gather much data on Pirelli's intermediate tyre, and as a result the Malaysian weekend is likely to be a learning experience throughout the paddock.

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