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McLaren: Sepang unlikely to see significant improvement 30 Mar 2009

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/24.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 29 March 2009 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren with the media.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 29 March 2009 (L to R): Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren with Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) McLaren Chief Executive Officer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 29 March 2009 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren MP4/24 on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 29 March 2009

McLaren may have scored an unlikely podium in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, but the team still freely admit there is little chance of them challenging for victory in this coming weekend’s Malaysian race.

Both Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen struggled for pace throughout the Melbourne event and it was only a mixture of good fortune (two safety cars and Jarno Trulli’s time penalty), strategy and great driving from Hamilton that saw the team come away with third place.

“Firstly, we shouldn’t get carried away by our podium in Australia,” said the world champion, who started 18th on the Albert Park grid. “Yes, we had a fantastic race but we’re all aware that our car isn’t capable of repeating that sort of performance on sheer pace alone. And Sepang is one of the tougher tracks on the calendar, one where we will probably be further from the frontrunners.”

With just a week between the season’s two opening races, McLaren won’t be able to make any large changes to the car, and although there will be several upgrades to existing components, Hamilton fears the Kuala Lumpur circuit will be far from an ideal fit with the Woking team's machine.

“It’s much more aero-dependent and rear-limited than Melbourne so it may highlight some of the shortcomings in the MP4-24,” he conceded. “Nevertheless, we’re all really encouraged by the progress we’ve made and I know we’ll be pushing as hard as ever to put more points on the board in Sepang.”

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh was also realistic about McLaren's Malaysian prospects, but insisted he was optimistic that the team can find the rate of development necessary to close the gap to the frontrunners in the coming races.

“The reality is that this weekend’s race is unlikely to offer a significant improvement in fortunes,” said Whitmarsh. “For us, the mission is clear: we must introduce lap time to our car faster than our rivals to enable us to, firstly, catch the leading runners and then to be able to compete against them. It’s a task we take incredibly seriously and are confident that progress will be made sooner rather than later.”

McLaren head to Malaysia second in the constructors’ championship standings on six points, one ahead of Toyota but 12 behind leaders Brawn GP.