Mat Coch writes:
McLaren, the perennially optimistic team full of enthusiasm, is beginning to show signs that it may be cracking under the immense pressure of a disappointing start to the 2013 season. The Woking squad has had a hard time of it during the opening part of the season, and now its leadership ranks are beginning to sound more than just a little battle weary.
Pragmatic optimism is a term one could generally use to describe the team's collective front to the media; confident, in control and more than capable of reversing any negative situation in short order. But listening to Jonathan Neale, the team’s Managing Director, that has been replaced with cautious realism.
"Our rate of understanding and effort has been very high but of course the first European race will be an area where everyone else is bringing upgrades as well," he said in the latest Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in. "Our progress will be measured against our competitors, so I think what we'll do is we'll be cautious at this stage and say that a measure of our progress will be revealed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
"We are essentially trying to sort out a correlation issue, which colleagues in other teams will know a lot about," he added. "I'd rather not give away exactly which bits we’ be changing until we've decided on Friday night which parts are staying on the car for Saturday."
Indeed, far from the charm offensive one can usually expect from McLaren Neale instead played from the backfoot. McLaren is working hard, but so are the others; the question is really whether McLaren has worked hard enough.
"The competitors don't stand still and quite what will be delivered depends on what everybody else is doing so it's just impossible to predict and unwise to do so," he asserted.
"Looking forward then I believe that it's really important that we sort out the issues with the car and the correlation, because all of the time that you have got that lingering doubt as to 'hang on a second; what went wrong there or how to do we fix this', you've always got the opportunity for it to arise again."
Neale also appears to have lost some degree of faith in the 2013 car. Where earlier in the season the team accepted it would take some short term pain for a longer term gain, the message coming from the McLaren top brass now seems subtly different.
"We made the decision (to develop the 2013 car) for what I believe were the right reasons, but what we thought we were optimising over the winter turned out not to be the case," he explained. "Once we've got ourselves back in the situation where we are winning races then I will be better placed to figure (the car's potential) out.
"There's also the pending 2014 car to think about as well, with not just the powertrain integration but also the aerodynamic changes that we've got," he continued. "Right now the focus is on making sure that we understand and that we have control of the physics in our car so that any premise that we've made the 2014 car on is sound."