McLaren's 2011 Preparation: Could They Be Having Some Problems?

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McLaren's 2011 Preparation: Could They Be Having Some Problems?
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
McLaren's 2011 effort

The second preseason test at Jerez concluded today with Felipe Massa, Michael Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello each finishing top over the four days.

At this early stage of the year, it is impossible to gauge which cars and drivers will be fastest come Bahrain. Testing times cannot be considered too important due to differing fuel loads, tyre and strategy choices each team is implementing.

But based on what I've seen in preparation for 2011, things seem a bit strange at McLaren.

Cast your minds back to November 2010. The Formula 1 season has just finished, and straight away teams begin preparing for the following year with a test at Abu Dhabi during the week after the Grand Prix.

The test was organised for teams to study the new Pirelli tyres coming in for this year. It only lasted two days, but it also gave the drivers a first chance to experience the new rubber.

Every team used its race drivers from 2010 or those trying out for a 2011 seat, except for one. Even at the time, it was considered odd that McLaren was using Gary Paffett and Oliver Turvey instead of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

It may have been to give their test drivers some experience, but there had been a young driver test just a few days before, so surely it would have been more beneficial to give the first drivers a chance on the Pirelli's.

Andrew Hone/Getty Images
Gary Paffett got a go just after Abu Dhabi

Fast forward to the beginning of February, and the start of the first test session held at Valencia. Most teams had released their car for 2011 and were busy giving them a shakedown.

Along with a few other teams, McLaren were still using their car from last year, and Paffett was once again driving on the first day. It would not be until February 3rd that both race drivers would finally have driven on the new tyres.

McLaren decided to delay the release of their new car until after the first test session. This gave them more time in development, but again I think this is a mistake.

They had been building this car most likely since before the end of last season and would have been designing it longer still. I don't understand what difference a few days will make over the course of several months, especially when it means missing one of a limited number of test dates with the new car.

Despite using old machinery, McLaren were in the top four on all three days of the first test, getting in plenty of laps and replicating downforce levels that will be on the new car.

It still seems silly to me that they were replicating features of the 2011 car when they should just have been using the 2011 car, but moving on...

McLaren finally launched their new car the day after the test session, and it definitely looked much different from the previous version, as well as the other teams' new creations thanks to some uniquely designed sidepods.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images
A modified 2010 McLaren was used at Valencia

Again, if they wanted more time for development, why didn't they unveil it at the next test session? The car must have been finished slightly before the launch date, especially as the launch was in Germany and the car was built in Woking.

The second preseason test took place last week, at the familiar testing circuit of Jerez.

On the first day, Hamilton undertook the initial checks that the other teams would probably have carried out at Valencia. They focused on short runs, and as a result, chalked up 58 laps.

Fair enough, everyone's test schedule will be different, and they declared themselves satisfied with how it went.

Button switched with Hamilton for the second day of running, and it was his turn to get used to the new McLaren. He managed 69 laps, which was still a lot less than fellow frontrunners Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes, who clocked up more than 110 each.

After a reasonable first two days of testing, Hamilton was back in the seat for day three. Yet for a team as professional and with as long a history as McLaren, it was a shortage of spare parts that meant there would be limited running.

This really isn't the sort of thing you would expect from such a top team.

As a result, Hamilton could only put in 36 laps, and after having missed the first test and not done a substantial mileage so far, the 2011 car could be lacking some match fitness.

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Button found it quite difficult to set up

Day four took place earlier today, and Button was to finish off the new car's first test session. However, it wasn't to be a happy end, as Button struggled to find a decent setup and was brought to an early end due to the failure of an internal car component.

Another 70 laps were added, giving the new McLaren 233 laps of running. Only last year's new teams completed less, with Virgin clocking up 216, Lotus 198 and Hispania not attending.

When you compare McLaren's 233 to Ferrari's 463 at this test, it looks a bit worrying.

Of course, this is all just speculation. It only struck me earlier today that there had been all of these strange occurrences, and I just wondered if everything is as happy as it seems at Woking.

Even if this car goes on to win every race this year, I will still believe that their preseason could have been used a lot more effectively.

If they finish the season behind Virgin in the constructor's, then I will only be too happy to take over from Martin Whitmarsh.

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