Good day for McLaren, but no predictions on the weekend

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The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1 Team has had a very good day at the circuit on the outskirts of the Hungarian capital city, Budapest. During both free practice sessions, a silver car was on top of the timesheets, however there is still a lot of work to do for the team.

Lewis Hamilton:
MP4-24-04 P1 programme 20 laps 1m22.554s (3rd)
P2 programme 36 laps 1m22.079s (1st)

How was today?

“Firstly, I love driving here: it’s quite a complex circuit, very technical, lots of bumps and you need a good rhythm. It’s definitely in my top five tracks on the calendar. We’ve refined the improvements we had at the Nurburgring and they seem to be working, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do to beat the Red Bulls particularly. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to be able to push the car – I’m happier with it than I’ve been all season.”

Where is MP4-24 lacking pace?

“Over the bumps and at the exits of corners: unlike the Red Bulls and the Brawns, we’re just not able to get the power down as early as them. It’s the speed out of the corners onto the straights where we lose out. Still, the guys at the factory have done an incredible job; I’m looking forward to seeing them next week, just to express how thankful I am for all the hard work they’ve been doing.”

What do you expect for qualifying?

“The front row would be beautiful but, to be honest, I’m just aiming to get into Q3. The car is much more competitive – we’ve come from 2.5s off but we’re still about four to five tenths off the leaders, so we’ve got to keep working to make that up before we can start thinking about winning.”

Heikki Kovalainen:
P1 programme 21 laps 1m22.278s (1st)
P2 programme 36 laps 1m22.126s (2nd)

A great result in both sessions – what’s made the difference for you?

“I’ve got the full upgrade package that Lewis raced at the Nurburgring and the car now feels much better to drive. We’ve got a new floor, new front wing, updated bodywork and some small changes to the suspension. It’s a big package – and I know how hard the team has worked to get everything here. There are still components arriving at the circuit today!”

How different does the car feel with the upgrade package?

“The grip level is so much higher now. Stability under braking is much better, and the guys have done a fantastic job to improve the balance at the rear. We still have to keep working hard to make further improvements – but this is a great starting point.”

How positive do you now feel ahead of qualifying?

“I still think we need to look at the data and analyse the strength of the opposition. Of course, it would be fantastic to carry this over into qualifying and the race, but we need to be realistic: I’m sure tomorrow morning will give us a much clearer idea of the position of the Brawns and the Red Bulls. But after today’s performance, I’ll definitely be going for it.”

Martin Whitmarsh, Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes:
How have you managed to achieve such impressive improvements recently?

“The new aero package that Lewis’s car was fitted with in Germany was originally intended for Hungary, but as things turned out we were able to introduce it one race early on one car only. Here, in Budapest, we’ve been able to use it on both cars. It’s a pretty major change, which has taken us down a different aerodynamic route from the one we initially followed with MP4-24’s design, and I think it’s fair to say that that new direction appears to be a fruitful one. In addition, we’ve also made a few extra aero mods over and above the original Hungary aero package, and both drivers have clearly benefited from those mods today. As a result, MP4-24 is now generating a significant amount more downforce than it was at the beginning of the year – and, combined with what was always a pretty sound mechanical package, the result is the performance step we’ve seen today.”

What are Lewis and Heikki saying about the car today?

“A racing driver will always drive up to and including his car’s limits. So, whenever you extend those limits by improving his car’s performance, his initial reaction on his first outing will always be a very positive one, simply because he’s been enjoying exploring new, higher, limits. On his second outing, by which time he’ll have encountered those new, higher, limits, he’ll be making fresh observations. As a result, his feedback will be less positive than it was after his first outing. But that’s exactly as it should be: you want your drivers to be insatiably ambitious, and ours are.”

What can we expect for the rest of the weekend?

“This morning was basically a test session in which we did some disciplined development work and gathered some useful data. This afternoon we turned our attention to trialling race fuel loads and doing tyre comparisons. There were no big issues, and our drivers both performed well. We learned quite a lot today, in fact. For tomorrow, we hope to be able to improve our car’s ride a little, and to continue to optimise its set-up and thereby find a little more speed. We know what programme we were on today in terms of tyres and fuel loads, but we don’t have the same information about our competitors, so it would be foolish to make predictions about the rest of the weekend. Suffice it to say that we hope to qualify well with both cars, from which platform there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to race competitively on Sunday.”

Norbert Haug, Vice-president, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: “Quite a constructive first day on this demanding track. Clearly, our KERS Hybrid is a big help around this circuit – particularly in the first sector. But, in addition, it’s obvious that our car in total has improved a lot since Silverstone two races ago. Now we need to continue in the same direction tomorrow and on Sunday in order to finally bring home a creditable and respectable result.”