Even when McLaren admitted their MP4-24 wasn’t on the pace there was still a suspicion that maybe, just maybe, they were having us on.
But qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix proved not only that the new car is slow – it’s unreliable too. A disastrous combination for defending world champion Lewis Hamilton.
The question now is, what can they do about it?
Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton line up 14th and 15th for the Australian Grand Prix tomorrow – assuming they don’t get any penalties which, with Hamilton’s car needing repairs, is possible.
The only cars behind them are the two Toro Rossos, the two Force Indias, and Nelson Piquet Jnr’s Renault. How has the team with the number one on its car got it so badly wrong?
Mclaren have a pattern of producing poorly-performing cars. The 2006 MP4/21 was winless and the MP4/19 of 2004 was a disaster until a B-specification version was introduced.
On top of that, while other teams like Brawn and Williams made an early start on their 2009 cars, McLaren pushed on with development of last year’s MP4-23 as Hamilton fought Massa for the drivers’ championship. It’s probably no coincidence that another team that have under-performed at Melbourne so far, Renault, also had a strong end to 2008 as they continued development of their car later than some of their rivals.
This opens up an intriguing storyline for the season, giving us an opportunity to see how well Hamilton and rival Alonso perform in two uncompetitive cars,and how good a job they make of bringing their teams back to the front.
There is one obvious development channel open to them – the controversial double-decker diffuser. Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota are all running with the innovation, which the FIA is set to hold an appeal hearing into on April 14th, five days before the Chinese Grand Prix. McLaren, like the other teams, will probably be banking on the FIA ruling the diffusers legal, and not having to go through the messy business of stripping likely wins and points from other teams.
But Red Bull, Ferrari and BMW all ran with conventional diffusers and all made it through to the final stage of qualifying, showing the MP4-24 has more problems than what’s going on at the back of the car.
Can McLaren get back to winning ways before the end of the season? Is Lewis Hamilton’s title defence over already? Have your say in the comments.