McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh fired a warning to the dominant Red Bull team and their rivals here late on Sunday night when he promised new parts for his cars and more speed.
That means the team's already super-fast pairing of British world champions Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton may be able to compete more squarely with the dominant Red Bulls of German Sebastian Vettel and Australian Mark Webber, who finished first and second in Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.
“We need it, we need to be faster,” said Button, promising to carry the fight to Red Bull and Ferrari in the Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai later this month.
“We especially need it in qualifying.” Many paddock and pit-lane observers believe that Red Bull has an advantage over its rivals in qualifying because its car can run low to the ground on low fuel loads in qualifying — and still rise to a safe height with full fuel for the races. But, Whitmarsh said, he believes McLaren is about to combat that with its own initiatives.
“We have got a lot closer to them and, yes, they were in a class of their own. But not for much longer I hope. Their qualifying pace has been very good and we think we know why. I think that's something that others will be doing shortly. We have some new parts coming for China, which will lift us by more than a few tenths.
“We had six modifications here which were worth 0.3 seconds and if we can deliver more than that again going to China I think it will be a pretty good effort. And particularly in qualifying...”
The McLaren boss also confirmed Button and Hamilton were allowed to choose their own strategies and fight one another in Sunday's race in which they started close to the back and fought through the field for points finishes.
Button chose to start on the ‘soft' tyre and then switch to the harder rubber after a short stint, but it back-fired — and Hamilton, who chose the opposite strategy, managed to finish sixth to Button's final place of eighth. “Lewis wanted to go ‘prime' and go long and he was happy with that and that meant that if we had rain two-thirds of the way through — preferably when Lewis had got through to second place — ‘bingo!' we would have looked a genius wouldn't we?” said Whitmarsh.
“It was a reasonable punt and in any case his pace through the middle part of that race got him through to a solid points finish.