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McLaren suffer and wait
Alan Baldwin | May 11, 2004 12:00 IST
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher would still be ahead of pre-season favourite Kimi Raikkonen in the Formula One standings even if he skipped the next four races and the Finn won them all.
If the scoring system used when McLaren last won a championship in 1999 was still in force, the team would have just one point -- from David Coulthard's sixth place in Malaysia.
Even now, their total from five races is a paltry five points and whichever way you look at it the Mercedes-powered team are having a hard time.
They have not won a race for more than a year, despite Raikkonen challenging for the 2003 title right to the very last chequered flag.
The 24-year-old Raikkonen's slide from his billing as the man most likely to become Formula One's youngest champion and McLaren's relegation from the top four have been vertiginous and it is not going to be easy to climb back up.
They now head to Monaco knowing that Sauber could overtake them in the championship in two weeks' time just as they did on the track in Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix.
"It's of course not where we want to be. It's extremely painful, and it's extremely motivating," said team boss Ron Dennis at the Circuit de Catalunya, promising better times ahead.
"It's not good fun these days but, as Ron sometimes says, if it were easy everyone would be doing it," added Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug. "We have been there before and we will come back."
Sunday highlighted the plight of a team who have won more drivers' championships (11) and races (137) and scored more points (2,887.5) than any other bar Ferrari.
As Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn pointed out, lest anyone forget, Raikkonen arrived in Barcelona last year with nearly twice as many points as Schumacher.
McLaren had 51 to Ferrari's 32.
"It all started to go wrong for McLaren from here," said Brawn, recalling a race in which Raikkonen started at the rear of the grid and piled into Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia's Jaguar at the start while Coulthard went out soon after.
Raikkonen was lapped by Schumacher on Sunday. But at least he finished -- 11th -- to complete a race for only the second time in a year in which he has twice started from the back of the grid after engine problems.
Coulthard was 10th, a decade on from his Formula One debut in Barcelona.
The Scot won against the odds in Monaco in 2002, but is unlikely to step back on to the top of the podium for some time.
He is due to be replaced by Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya at the end of this year and, with a winning car, this could have been his last chance to lift the title unless he returns to Williams.
With just four points, he is nowhere.
But McLaren are busy working on a development car which should emerge over the European summer.
"I anticipate that we will have a significant performance step sometime in the next six races, sooner rather than later," said Dennis at the weekend.
"Our energy is very much going on to that but at the same time there is a lot of preparatory work which is following through, coming through slowly into the car's performance."
Coulthard said McLaren could come back with the 19B car, even if the titles are likely to be wrapped up by then. Schumacher is so far unbeaten, making a record-equalling start with five wins in a row.
"If the car is quicker but the engine doesn't develop then probably not, but if both are developed then it may be possible (to come back) towards the end of the season," said Coulthard.
"If you look at history it shows that rarely does someone come from a position of struggling to winning by the end of the season."
McLaren's problems are elusive, Dennis admitting as much at the Bahrain Grand Prix in April while denying that the move into a new state-of-the-art headquarters had distracted his attention.
Mercedes, who have taken much of the stick for engine failures, confirmed at the San Marino Grand Prix that they had parted company with Hans-Ulrich Maik, the man who ran the Mercedes-owned Ilmor engine company.
Haug bristled when the McLaren-Mercedes partnership was likened on Sunday to a supertanker that needs time and space to turn around, but he agreed that change would not happen quickly.
"We can react quite quickly, but quite quickly means at least half a year's time in reality," he said.
"Nobody fell asleep over the winter, I think the team worked even harder than before but the technical package we have at the moment is just not good enough to win races. But we are going to change that."
"I'm not sure whether we will be there in five or six races but I'm sure that you will see an upward trend in the second half of the season. We are going to have a couple of difficult races ahead of us and we will live with it."
Formula One: The Complete Coverage