FEBRUARY 16, 2004
The performance of McLaren
McLaren went to Jerez last week hoping to shake off the lack of speed that was in evidence at the previous test in Barcelona. But by the end of the test the times were still not looking great with Kimi Raikkonen only able to set the 10th fastest time of the four-day test, the Finn's best being nearly six-tenths of a second slower than Ralf Schumacher's best lap. Between Ralf and the McLaren were both BAR drivers, two other Williams drivers, two Renaults and both Saubers. Ferrari was present at the test but did not appear to be going for times and so Rubens Barrichello ended up slower than Raikkonen and and only slightly faster than Mark Webber's Jaguar. The other three McLaren drivers at the test were behind Webber, all covered by two-tenths of a second.
The big question which McLaren's rivals want to know the answer to is whether or not McLaren is sandbagging or whether the car is off the current pace. Most of the rival teams are saying that McLaren does not look like a threat but that one must never write the team off. Judging anything from the current times is a dangerous thing to do but it is safe to say that McLaren has not looked threatening since before Christmas, when it was the only team with a new car. Certainly Kimi Raikkonen has gone on the record saying that there was a problem and so it is difficult to suggest the team is sandbagging. Similarly, it is also difficult to say that McLaren will not be on the pace in Melbourne because there are modifications and developments in the pipeline for that event. This may sound promising but one must also remember that McLaren is not the only team planning to have new developments in Australia.
Such is the state of flux in F1 these days that predicting anything is very tough but on paper one has to say that the pressure is very definitely on down at Woking - or perhaps, more importantly, up in Brixworth, where the Ilmor-Mercedes Benz engines are built...
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