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McLaren Back on Track?

April 25, 2009

After three races with an under-performing car, McLaren are hot on the pace and chasing down this season’s front-runners in Bahrain, this weekend.

Lewis Hamilton set the pace in the first practice session at the Sakhir circuit on Friday, proving the new aero parts added to the car are certainly helping the team on their quest back to the top. Heikki Kovalainen in the sister McLaren had managed sixth fastest in the first session, but only managed 19th in the second, whilst Hamilton peaked 11th.

In qualifying, Kovalainen just missed out on making it through to quali three, in 11th, and Hamilton put his Number 1 car fifth on the grid ahead of Sunday’s race. During quali one the current champion managed to go fastest at one point.

Hamilton said he was pleased that the team’s hard work had been paid off and that they were able to battle out in the top ten in quali three. “We’ve got a similar pace to some of the guys in the top five; as long as everything goes smoothly we should be able to get a top five finish tomorrow. I can almost see pole position now – and I’m really looking forward to getting there soon!”

Kovalainen said: “I am now looking forward to the race, where my target is to achieve a solid points result.”

The team are stepping up their game after the first three races, in which the highest grid slot they managed was ninth by Hamilton, and the highest race finish was fifth by Kovalainen, both in China last weekend. After the FIA ruled the diffusers of the Brawn, Toyota and Williams teams legal, McLaren have been working on their own double-decker design, introducing it for the first time at the Chinese Grand Prix.

With ‘liar-gate’ being heard before the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) next week, it remains to be seen whether McLaren will be let-off and allowed to move on and continue to race. Speculation over whether the team will receive a ban from part of this season is rife, with the added threat of losing sponsorship, after they brought the sport into disrepute when Hamilton and team manager Dave Ryan lied to officials at the Australian Grand Prix.

The team’s determination to get back on track in the early stages of the 2009 season, hasn’t been dampened by their forthcoming court appearance. However, if the team were to receive a suspension or a ‘disproportionately large’ fine, their sponsors such as Vodafone and Diageo, the owners of the Johnny Walker label, could find a way to pull out of their sponsorship deals, leaving the team in hot water, particularly in the current economic crisis.

For now it seems McLaren are still fighting to both improve the car and to earn valueable points, and their speed on the track yesterday and today in Bahrain has shown they are not about to give up on another world championship this year.

As with the previous two seasons where McLaren have fought with Ferrari for the world title, things can easily change, and teams such as Brawn-Mercedes and Red Bull who so far have had impressive successes this year, could find themselves fighting to stay ahead.

Lewis Hamilton will start tomorrow’s race from fifth on the grid, with Heikki Kovalainen in 11th, having got the best from the car. Toyota’s Jarno Trulli will start the race from pole position, having lapped the Sakhir circuit in 1:33.431. Trulli said: “I’m thrilled to be back on pole again. This weekend has gone well and it’s great to be starting at the front tomorrow.” His teammate Timo Glock will start alongside him in second, with Sebastian Vettel in third. Jenson Button starts ahead of Hamilton in fourth, with the Ferrari’s of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen starting eighth and tenth respectively. Force India’s Adrian Sutil, who qualified 16th, has been issued a three-place grid drop after getting in the way of Red Bull’s Mark Webber at the end of quali one, preventing him from obtaining a faster lap-time and getting him through to quali two. Webber will start in P18.

 

Coverage starts on BBC One tomorrow at 12pm, with the race due to start at 1pm.

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