McLaren confound critics rise from the ashes

04 Jenson Button (GBR, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes),  *** Local Caption *** +++ +++ copyright: HOCH ZWEI +++

Jenson Button in the cockpit of the vastly improved McLaren MP4-26

Mar.25 (GMM) McLaren clouded the predicted pecking-order in Melbourne on Friday by topping the times against all predictions.

03 Lewis Hamilton (GBR, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes),  *** Local Caption *** +++ +++ copyright: HOCH ZWEI +++

Lewis Hamilton with McLaren engineers in Melbourne

The Woking squad under performed alarmingly during preseason testing but appear to have found some pace and reliability in the past two weeks leading up to this weekend.

It had been the Red Bulls suitably ahead of the field in inital practice for the Australian grand prix, before Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton went quicker in the late session.

McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh had flagged a major step forward after the scrapping of an overly-complex exhaust dubbed by the media as ‘octopus’.

German reports said the MP4-26’s revised layout was similar to the one seen on the Red Bull.

Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/26.  Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday 25 March 2011.

Jenson Button ended day one of the new Formula 1 season fastest of all in the McLaren MP4-26

“The new exhaust has definitely brought performance to the car – it feels much better,” said Button late on Friday.

However, rumours filled the Albert Park paddock that Red Bull may have deliberated throttled back in the final session, perhaps by not using the adjustable rear wing on the best timed laps.

And Mark Webber said: “McLaren look quick, but with Ferrari you can never tell, as they always run a bit more fuel on a Friday.”

His teammate Sebastian Vettel added: “I am pleased that we are among them, but yes, it is a bit of a surprise that McLaren have obviously found their way back to the top in a very short period of time.”

With regards to McLaren’s new found pace, Ferrari even had a go at the media in their last press release of the day, “Despite the fact that the media seemed determined to write off the McLaren team in terms of competitiveness, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton proved them wrong in no uncertain terms, setting the fastest two times of the day.”