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McLaren sandbagging? UPDATE #2 (GMM)  A former grand prix driver and now respected pundit has dismissed Bernie Ecclestone's suggestion that McLaren has been sandbagging this winter.

In light of the Mercedes-powered team's poor pre-season pace, the F1 chief executive said he does not think McLaren are set to struggle in 2009.

"I think you will find that they are still very competitive in Melbourne," Ecclestone said.  "Let's put it this way, there's been no need for them to show that they're quick."

But the Swiss Marc Surer, a veteran of nearly 90 grands prix in the 80s, said there is no doubt that the Woking based team's MP4-24 is not a world beater.

"There is no bluffing, they are having problems," he is quoted as saying by spox.com.  "They definitely have an aerodynamic problem.

"It would surprise me if they will be where they want to be in Melbourne.  We can safely assume they will get to the bottom of it, but they are not going to have a winning car all of a sudden," Surer added.

Brawn racer and grand prix veteran Rubens Barrichello agrees with Surer that McLaren is in difficulty, but similarly backs the highly-successful team to bounce back.

"What I assume is that, even though it will take some time, certainly McLaren are going to win grands prix this year in the second half of the championship," the Brazilian said in an interview with Spain's Marca sports newspaper.

03/22/09 (GMM)  Bernie Ecclestone on Sunday suggested McLaren's pre-season lack of pace may have been overstated -- even by the British team.

In the run to next Sunday's Australian grand prix, it has emerged that the MP4-24 is not a world-beater, reportedly suffering from aerodynamic flaws.

But while the works Mercedes squad has been quite open about its winter struggle, F1's 78-year-old chief executive floated the theory that an element of sandbagging may have been in play.

"I think you will find that they are still very competitive in Melbourne," Ecclestone told the Sunday Telegraph.

He added that he believes the Woking based team is "not at all" in serious trouble.

"Let's put it this way, there's been no need for them to show that they're quick," the Briton added.

But while McLaren's Melbourne form may be unclear, Ecclestone does not think the astonishing test pace of the former Honda team Brawn GP has been a false guide to the 2009 season.

"Now they aren't sandbagging or joking," he said.

03/20/09 (GMM)  World champion Lewis Hamilton, and his teammate Heikki Kovalainen, are likely to qualify "in the last third" of the Melbourne grid next weekend.

That is the frank admission of Norbert Haug, who has spoken candidly about McLaren's winter problems with the new MP4-24 car.

In an official race preview on Friday, team figures admitted outright victory at Albert Park is unlikely.

World champion Hamilton, who won the event in 2008 after securing pole, said he doesn't have "the same prospects" for success this year as in the past, while Kovalainen admitted the Woking based team "probably won't start the season as favorites".

Team boss Martin Whitmarsh said McLaren is "fully aware" fighting at the front is not a prospect for Australia, while Mercedes chief Haug said winning "may not be possible".

In an interview with the German news agency SID, however, Haug was more candid about the car's competitiveness, and also the time it may take for its problems to be resolved.

"After our test results, we must get used to the fact that in Melbourne we will be in the last third of the starting order," the German is quoted as saying.

"Clearly we have to improve our technical package," Haug continued.  "This process needs time and it could be the start of the European season (before McLaren is competitive), perhaps even longer."

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