…and the fans – just what can we expect from the legendary British team in 2011?  Much of the talk about the team has been a little bit negative recently, with their testing pace being far from spectacular set alongside their relative lack of testing mileage.  So what can we expect come Sunday – can they produce something as brilliant as their launch in Berlin?

The new car is born

McLaren’s launch, on a chilly morning in Berlin was nothing short of spectacular, with members of the public each bringing different parts of the new MP4-26 into the piazza for the mechanics to piece together, just in time for Jenson and Lewis to turn up and see their new motor in all it’s glory.

Badger was there with Vodafone (the driving force behind the launch) to see the event first hand and you can see our exclusive stage by stage photos here.  After the impressively alternative launch, we attended numerous Q&As with the team principal, the technical management and the drivers – everyone was of course very positive about the new car.

Talks of missing the first test were dismissed and turned around to say that it simply allowed the designers to have more time.  On the subject of exhaust systems, we were told that they have at least three different exhaust configurations, which would be tested.  Jonathan Neale described Renault’s front exit exhausts as being an ‘aggressive’ approach, that may or may not pay off.

During the winter months

The drivers have said that their lack of mileage is due to technical issues (hardly a comforting fact) and their lack of pace has been dismissed by the team – claiming that they were testing with high fuel loads, but the majority outside the team fear that both Jenson and Lewis could be in for a difficult season, or at least tricky first half of the season.

McLaren’s Testing Milage – this in total was only 3603km, compared to Red Bull and Ferrari who did nearly 7000km each and even the Marussia Virgin team did more than 3700km in their new car. (source: Adam Cooper F1 Blog)

So will Australia 2011 take Lewis back to his troublesome time their 2009, when it became clear that the car was barely capable of a top six finish, let alone a podium of victory?  We won’t mention the other malarkey that’s happened down-under.

Or, and I’m going out on a limb here, have McLaren just successfully lured every other team and the majority of the media into a false sense of security and come Sunday Jenson will recreate his 2009 Aussie experience and dominate around Albert Park?

If you’re a McLaren fan looking for a positive side to the ‘difficult’ winter tests, read what Martin Whitmarsh has to say when approached on the very subject…

“it’s called testing for a reason – and testing MP4-26 beyond its limit has, in some ways, been highly instructive. In actual fact, we’ve gathered a huge amount of useful data about the car, its handling characteristics and its management of the tyres. So while we’ve further fine-tuned the package for Melbourne, we’ve once again set ourselves some extremely tough targets for this opening race weekend.” – Martin Whitmarsh, team principal.

Heading to Melbourne

Despite all this negative press, there’s plenty of positiveness coming from their Woking base – Lewis Hamilton was saying “I strongly believe that, while our preparations haven’t gone as smoothly as we’d have liked, I get the impression that we’ll be arriving in Melbourne with everything finally meshing together – and that makes me really excited.” – is that a brave face on the media-savvy 2008 champion – possibly not, because team mate Jenson seems quite open to the idea of making it a hat-trick downunder “I’m regularly being asked if I can make it three wins in a row this year. On paper that might not look likely, but, seriously, who knows? I most definitely wouldn’t rule it out.”

If Jenson and Lewis really believe they can do the business around Albert Park, then maybe all these pre-season doubts can be dismissed and well, even if the car isn’t up to battling with Red Bull and Ferrari right away, a team with their resources can and will bounce back much more successfully than Alan Partridge ever managed.  Their full name is Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, Mercedes make fine engines (just ask Force India), McLaren is a collection of some of the finest engineers in Formula One and as for Vodafone, well their slogan is “Power to You” – what more do they need!?

Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal“As with everything we do at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, we never give up: we’re fighters – that’s the spirit that has won us 20 world championships in the past and which makes us a team you can never under-estimate.”

Image courtesy of Octane Photos