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New McLaren a dog? UPDATE #3 In the ongoing discussion over how fast - or not - the McLaren MP4-24 is, this video shot at the Barcelona test session earlier this week has attracted a lot of attention:

It shows Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren and Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari doing simulated starts together. Although Raikkonen starts behind the McLaren he is well ahead as the two head out of sight.

This has being seized by some on as conclusive proof that McLaren have massive rear grip problems and are going to be annihilated at Melbourne in two weeks’ time.

03/11/09 McLaren must be sandbagging then.  McLaren chairman Ron Dennis has insisted McLaren will be title contenders in 2009, despite an apparent lack of pace in pre-season testing.  World champion Lewis Hamilton and teammate Heikki Kovalainen lagged behind their rivals in testing ahead of the Australian Grand Prix on 29 March.  But Dennis told BBC Sport: "Whatever performance level McLaren have today we will be a competitive racing team.

"That means we will be fighting for the world championship."

"We lost some time," stated Dennis, who stepped down as team principal at the end of February, handing over the reins to Martin Whitmarsh.

"We had a strategy for this year to leave it to the last possible moment to produce our aerodynamic package for the Australian Grand Prix.

"That in itself gave us some production challenges and we have really only started to run the car in the last day with the Australian aero package.

"We ran the 2008 rear wing because it was more relevant in its performance to the wing that we are going to have in Australia.

"It doesn't mean you are lost or that you don't know what you are doing.

"Whereas our main competitors are finishing testing in two days we still have the ability to test next week in Jerez.

"When we get to Australia that will be the first measurement of everyone's performance.

"We expect our car to go faster with every Grand Prix and we expect to maintain our pace to allow us to win the world championship." 

While Ferrari have been consistently fast during pre-season testing, McLaren appear to be some way off the pace of their main rivals.  During this week's test in Barcelona, McLaren's Kovalainen was more than two and a half seconds down on Nick Heidfeld's fastest time for BMW Sauber on Monday.

03/11/09 This rumor is upgraded to 'strong' today.    Norbert Haug has admitted the new Mercedes-powered McLaren MP4-24 is currently not leading the formula one field.

With the 2009 pre-season winding down, it has emerged clearly that the team of 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton is struggling for test pace.

It is suggested that the aerodynamics at the rear of the car - possibly the diffuser or the rear wing - is the main culprit.

McLaren's recent rear wing-switching has been widely reported, and on at least two occasions now, the British team has applied green liquid dye to the MP4-24's bodywork, to trace the air-flow over the car.

"For sure we are not yet where we want to be," Haug, Mercedes' motor racing chief, told Germany's Bild newspaper.

Unlike many teams who will wrap up their test programs at Barcelona, McLaren has scheduled a further four days of running at Jerez next week.

Given the looming in-season test ban, it is suggested that if McLaren has not solved its problems by Melbourne, rapid improvement thereafter is unlikely.

Haug said: "The test ban will make developments during the season more difficult, but by no means impossible."

Former McLaren driver Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, warned observers against writing off the Woking squad.

"I don't know if they have problems or what they are doing," the Finn, who now drives for Ferrari, told La Gazzetta dello Sport at Barcelona.

"It is easier to wait two weeks (for Melbourne) to see exactly where people are.  Certainly they (McLaren) have been less quick than in past winters but this does not mean they will not be quick at the first race."

03/10/09 (GMM)  As the wick of the 2009 pre-season burns down, one nagging suspicion remains: the new McLaren does not seem quick.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Ferrari, BMW and Toyota are leading the pack, closely followed by Renault and Red Bull.  Where reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton's team fits in, however, remains a crucial question.

Nick Heidfeld, quickest at Barcelona on Monday and confident his BMW-Sauber is on track to being a title contender, believes the Mercedes-powered team will bounce back.

"Where they are now, they do not belong," the German said, presumably referring to Heikki Kovalainen's place on Monday at the very bottom of the timesheets.

"Even if they are having problems now, they will get over them," Heidfeld is quoted as saying by Auto Motor und Sport.

Jarno Trulli, another driver looking strong at the wheel of his 2009 car, agrees that McLaren does not belong at the rear of the field.

"They are a very experienced team who can bounce back at any time," the Toyota driver told reporters.  "So as soon as they understand what is wrong, what is right, and which direction they can take, I am sure they will be back."

Heidfeld and Trulli, like most of the F1 world, was also impressed with the form of the new Brawn GP car on Monday, after Jenson Button topped the morning session and raced to the fourth best time of the day.

"No matter how they did the time, it was good," Heidfeld said, addressing suggestions the BGP001 was not carrying much fuel.

Trulli added: "I was impressed by the Brawn, which was straight away looking well, which is positive for formula one, everybody, and I am happy for the team and everyone there as they have had such a difficult time."

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