McLaren confident they are close to their rivals

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Bahrain, Bahrain International Circuitbh

After a long and busy winter for the McLaren Mercedes Team, the 2010 FIA Formula One Championship finally kicked off with two free practice sessions at the Bahrain International Circuit. The day went smooth for both Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton and the team is optimistic that they will match the pace of their closest rivals this weekend.

Lewis Hamilton:
P1 programme 19 laps 1m57.163s (+.580s) 6th
P2 programme 22 laps 1m55.854s (+.445s) 2nd

“Out on track, it’s been very hot so tyre degradation of both compounds has been pretty high. But I think the degradation is something we can handle; you build it into your driving style and moderate the approach to each lap. Still, it’s difficult to know what laptime to target when you’re on a long run. The less you push at the beginning of a stint, the more there is left to push at the end. But it’s difficult to know exactly, and we’re still trying to understand that.

“The new section of track seems to be very bumpy and tricky – but everyone’s in the same boat. Equally, our car feels very heavy with a high fuel-load – it doesn’t want to stop under braking – but through the high-speed corners it feels quite well balanced. It’s just getting the car stopped that’s tricky: it doesn’t stop as well as when it’s on low tanks.

“Overall, today didn’t feel too bad. We still don’t really have a full understanding of where all the teams are because everyone was running different fuel-loads. As a result, the positions on today’s timesheets don’t really reflect overall pace too much yet.”

Jenson Button:
P1 programme 19 laps 1m57.068s (+.485s) 5th
P2 programme 28 laps 1m56.076s (+.667s) 4th

“Today’s shown us that looking after the rear tyres is very difficult here, especially on the softer compound. So you find yourself driving with a lot of oversteer through most of the stint.

“The new section of track is very bumpy. Turns Six and Seven are particularly tough because you’re trying to brake as late as you can, and, if you do that, the car hits the ground, you bounce all over the place and it’s very difficult to see where you’re going. So you have to brake earlier, and more gently, so the front doesn’t dip through that part of the corner – and that positions you better for the next turn.

“We’re still working on our set-up – and that’s not something you can really do in the second session because you’re working on a tyre back-to-back programme and the track’s so busy. We know where the car is now and we know where we want it to be, so there’s work to be done this evening to improve things overnight.

“I think we did an okay job today. We can be reasonably happy with the performance of the car, although we know there are areas we still need to work on. The basic car is working well, but we’re not quite there with the balance yet.”

Martin Whitmarsh, Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: “After a long and incredibly busy winter, it’s fantastic to be back competing at a racetrack with all our competitors – particularly here in Bahrain, where our hosts always do so much to make every team feel so welcome. It’s a fantastic venue and the perfect place to kick off the world championship.

“Of course, today was very much about establishing a benchmark for the rest of the weekend. With the track still very green and dusty and, in some places, quite bumpy, we concentrated on establishing a solid base set-up for both drivers before moving on to evaluate the two tyre compounds over the course of several longer stints.

“As you’d expect, the larger fuel-loads still make accurate comparison of the teams difficult, but we’re optimistic that our pace relative to our closest rivals appears to be competitive.

“This afternoon, Lewis had a small issue when the nosebox camera detached itself during a run – but it caused no damage and he was able to continue.

“Our focus now turns towards understanding each tyre’s behaviour and finessing the car’s balance for tomorrow afternoon’s qualifying session. We feel we’ve made a solid start to our weekend.”