Neale: Watch out Red Bull, McLaren are coming through 26 May 2010
Red Bull may be riding high in both championships, having scored every pole position plus three victories from the opening six rounds of 2010, but McLarens Jonathan Neale is certain their advantage wont last the entire season. And during a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session, Neale revealed he believes his team could close the gap to the frontrunners very soon.
Lets suppose Red Bull are maybe 0.8 second or a second ahead at some circuits, began the McLaren managing director. Based on our own experience, we know that we closed a 2.5 second-a-lap gap between the start of the season and Hungary last year. So weve demonstrated that kind of gradient is doable. They have a quick car so now its just up to the rest of us to get the job done.
I suspect that they wont have that advantage all season. I think they are eminently catchable and we fully intend to do that. Its all still to play for. At the moment Red Bull have the upper hand, but Im confident that wont be the case by the middle of the season.
Although clearly optimistic McLaren have what it takes to catch the championship leaders, Neale admitted that the British team still have their work cut out to improve their cars qualifying pace, which in turn will enable drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton to make more of an impression on the results.
I dont think weve given Jenson or Lewis, a car that can put them at the front of the grid yet, he said. Theyve got their work cut out. Both are working really well, and in terms of the car both leave nothing on the circuit. The obligation is now on us as a team to give them a car to get the job done, not for the drivers themselves to look at what they need to do next.
Neale freely acknowledged the team has lost out on points over the last few races because of procedural errors. From Hamiltons DNF in Spain to the mistake in Monaco that saw Button retire after he was despatched with a foam bung left in one of his cars sidepods, McLaren - like their rivals - know they must prevent similar issues in future.
Formula One is not at all tolerant and nor should it be," he explained. "We came out of China on a high and then we dropped points in the last two races and, when its as tight as it is in the championship, you cant afford to make those kinds of mistakes. You need to eliminate those from the game, like everyone else I think Red Bull would say the same thing. If you look at the potential of that car, and the points that they didnt score, Im sure they have their own frustrations.
While admitting it is something of a relief to know Red Bull have similar concerns, Neale is hopeful that McLarens experienced driver line-up will ultimately pave the way to rapid development progress.
Although there are plenty of differences in their driving styles, the similarities between Button and Hamilton are such that they free the engineering department to focus on specific areas rather than spreading themselves too thinly to suit each individuals needs. This, Neale believes, could be important as the title battle hots up.
Jenson and Lewis have slightly different preferences for braking, but youre into a second order of magnitude, compared to fundamentals like suspension, wheelbase etc, he concluded. So were very happy that having these drivers doesnt mean the chief engineer has to open up two or three development paths, which sap the organisation of energy.
It means we can then focus on getting more downforce and getting more out of the tyres on to the car, which is essentially where we are going to close the gap to Red Bull. That and being operationally more effective.
McLaren, currently third in the standings on 129 points to Red Bulls 156, will be back in action at this weekends Turkish Grand Prix.