Just one week ahead of the season opener, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone dismisses claims that McLaren will be off the pace, admitting that he believes the Woking team is sandbagging.
The were already fears that McLaren was having problems when the Woking team continued running its 2009 car with a 2008-spec rear wing. Then, in Barcelona, as his team appeared to struggle to get off the bottom of the timesheets, Ron Dennis, on the verge of stepping down as team boss, insisted that all was well. Days later, however, Martin Whitmarsh and Norbert Haug went public, admitting that the MP4-24 is suffering a "performance shortfall".
While the test times have improved this week at Jerez, McLaren's official preview of the Australian GP is uncharacteristically downbeat, with Whitmarsh admitting: "We go into the start of the 2009 season fully aware that we do not yet have the technical package that will allow our drivers to fight at the front.
" In Formula 1 there is nowhere to hide," he continues, "that's what makes our sport so demanding and yet so endlessly fascinating. And as a team that goes racing with the expectation of winning races and challenging for world championships, we go to Melbourne with realistic expectations."
Ecclestone however, is unconvinced, asked by the Sunday Telegraph if he thinks McLaren are in trouble he said: "No, not at all. I think you will find that they are still very competitive in Melbourne."
If he's correct, this would mean that the Woking team has been sandbagging. "Let's put it this way," said Ecclestone, "there's been no need for them to show that they're quick."
While Max Mosley is warning that the season opener could be overshadowed by the ongoing row over the legality of the diffusers being used by three teams, Ecclestone remains convinced that one of those teams is on the verge of pulling off a remarkable success. Asked about the pace of the Brawn car, he replied: "Now they aren't sandbagging or joking.
"Jenson has shown he's quick, so there's no reason in the world why he shouldn't be what we all thought he was," added the Englishman. "He's been unlucky up until now."