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Lewis Hamilton's McLaren 'not fast enough' for new F1 season
Well that settles that then. After weeks of speculation as to whether they might be "sandbagging" - deliberately underperforming in a bid to throw other teams off their scent - McLaren have candidly admitted that their 2009 machine is "not fast enough" to be competitive at the F1 curtain raiser in Melbourne in 16 days time.

[Image: mclaren_1365743c.jpg]

The news will come as a blow to the legions of Lewis Hamilton fans in this country, although McLaren do still have time to rectify the problem.

While most teams have used up their allocation of pre-season testing days, the Woking-based team have one more round at Jerez next week in which to fine tune. And make no mistake, if there is one team with the resources and acumen to play catch-up, it is McLaren.

In truth, the writing had been on the wall for some time. McLaren's problems were apparent in Jerez two weeks ago when they ran the car with a 2008 rear wing for no discernible reason. And they were even more apparent in Barcelona this week.

While fellow Briton Jenson Button set a scorching pace in what was a first ever outing for the new Brawn GP car, defending world champion Hamilton cut a forlorn figure as the MP4-24 consistently brought up the rear at the Circuit de Catalunya.

It was particularly galling for McLaren given the fact that both cars share the same Mercedes V8 engine.

Murmurings in the paddock turned into full-blown gossip on Monday when McLaren decided to introduce a whole new aero package with less than three weeks to go until the start of the season.

Some felt this might have been a cunning ploy. With the ban on in-season testing, perhaps McLaren were merely checking out parts for later in the season?

Those hopes were quashed on Friday by McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh.

When asked if the MP4-24 was fast enough, he admitted: "Not at the moment - and certainly not by our team's extremely high standards.

"But Lewis is the reigning world champion so anything less than success at that level is naturally regarded as unsatisfactory by us, by our partners, by the media and by the fans."

Whitmarsh added: "A performance shortfall has been identified that we are now working hard to resolve. It is a combination of factors. Our Mercedes-Benz engine is strong - we saw that last year - so the MP4-24's performance shortfall is clearly chassis-centric.

"But F1 engineers can do great things when the pressure is on. Many times in F1 history have successful teams started off with a car that was not working as well as they had hoped it would, and many times have those successful teams engineered their way back to the front of the grid in impressively short order.

"That is what we aim to do. In fact, that is what we are already doing."

While Hamilton faces a nervous fortnight before Melbourne, the omens continue to stack up for Button, the forgotten man of British motorsport.

Button's teammate, Rubens Barrichello, who set the fastest time of the week in Barcelona, predicted on Friday that the Brawn GP car will be "the surprise of the year".

"I believe in myself and Jenson being top of the list among the drivers - although I can see plenty of good drivers in Formula One," the 36-year-old said.

"Right now, all I say would (only) mean that I would put myself under pressure for the first races.

"All I can confirm is that it is a good car, a good engine, a good group and I think we will be the surprise of the year."

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