Date: 15th April 2011 at 12:57pm
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Going into this season, many thought that McLaren would have to play catch up during the early part of the season due to their poor winter testing session and that really hasn’t changed, the only surprise element is they are already ahead of the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari, something which didn’t look possible when the teams packed up their belongings in Barcelona last month.

McLaren may have made huge strides, but to take it forward, they now need to make the next step which is to challenge the Red Bull’s and in particular 2010 World champion Sebastian Vettel.

China had hoped to be a race which McLaren could take it to Red Bull, McLaren were bringing another upgrade package to Shanghai, while Red Bull appeared to be having issues with their KERS device.

The gap looked like it could become closer from last week in Malaysia and McLaren driver Jenson Button was confident the team would enjoy a good weekend when speaking at Thursday’s press conference.

‘In terms of fine-tuning the car, hopefully we will get a bit closer this weekend, When we were testing in Malaysia we were making changes and it was making a massive difference in terms of lap time and consistency.

‘I think we probably can make more headway with Red Bull Racing, because of not really knowing completely our car and not having the perfect set-up over the last couple of races.

‘We have some updates here. I don’t know if Red Bull Racing has, it is difficult to know, but I think you will also see a couple of other teams quick here.
Button told Autosport Magazine before adding: if we get a nice clean race start then I think we can have a fun race and the pace will be quite similar [to Red Bull].’

Fast forward 24 hours and once again the reining F1 champ was on top of the time sheets for Red Bull for both practice sessions.

In FP1 the McLaren’s were 2 seconds behind Vettel and Webber, while in FP2 the gap was a lot closer, but the race pace speed appears to give the Red Bull’s a clear advantage over their rivals going into the weekend.

‘We had a good day, but it’s only Friday and so it’s early in the race weekend.

‘We found a good rhythm and we’re happy with the car. There’s still a lot to do and I think it will be tight in qualifying and the race, so we’ll look where we can improve.’
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel told the BBC after Friday’s two practice sessions.

The session left Button clearly frustrated, with all the optimism from Thursday regarding the new upgrades and closing the gap to Vettel gone from memory: ‘I’ll be surprised if we can fight for pole position in qualifying as they look very fast.

‘The car is still a good car to drive but we didn’t improve the balance and we will look at why the changes we made didn’t give us the improvement. ‘


McLaren may well choose to not run with the upgrades they brought to China, with both Button and team-mate Lewis Hamilton not happy with the changes.

‘I don’t think it’s as good as [what] we had before.’ Hamilton added. ‘In the afternoon we chose to go with the upgrade we had but I’ve been really struggling with the balance so I don’t know if it’s the upgrade.

‘I was able to get a reasonable lap time but I wasn’t comfortable in the car.’


Can McLaren recover in time to make Sunday’s race entertaining? Or will Vettel dominate once more? Join the debate on our VitalF1.com Forum.

 

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