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Things can only get better for McLaren
Alan Baldwin | May 31, 2004 17:27 IST
McLaren's Formula One season can hardly get much worse after Sunday's European Grand Prix.
But it could take some time for matters to improve significantly, even if a turning point is in sight with McLaren due to test their heavily revised MP4-19B car at Silverstone this week.
"It will run on Tuesday," said team boss Ron Dennis. "It's on time ... the guys have done a great job keeping to the schedule."
With just five points from seven races, McLaren are at their lowest ebb since Dennis took charge in 1981 and they will have to use the current MP4-19 for Canada and the United States on June 13 and 20.
Before Sunday's race had run half its course both their cars had been halted by blown engines, familiar plumes of smoke erupting from the Mercedes units.
The race, the fourth Ferrari one-two of the season, is likely to be quietly forgotten when BMW and Mercedes get around to reviewing the highlights of the Formula One season -- if indeed there are any.
The two German carmakers had a nightmare at the Nuerburgring, the racetrack nestling alongside the fearsome Nordschleife circuit where Mercedes' famed Silver Arrows were once dominant.
For the second year in a row, Finland's Kimi Raikkonen -- a title favourite before the season started -- put up a brave fight before pulling over with a cloud of smoke billowing from his overcooked engine.
Last year's championship runner-up has one point to his name so far in 2004. Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, a winner again on Sunday, has 59 points more than him and the Finn knows his championship is over.
Briton David Coulthard, who has four points, also suffered a blown engine.
If McLaren do not get better soon, Jaguar and Toyota could overtake them. Jaguar's Australian Mark Webber has already scored three points.
"We'll get as many points as we bloody can and we could easily be ahead of them if we had a bit more reliability," said Webber. "But they'd be a long way down the road if they had some more reliability.
"We shouldn't be happy to be judging ourselves on their performance because it's very weak. It's not exactly going smoothly for them at the moment."
But Dennis was still looking for positives.
"The reliability problems we are experiencing at the moment are linked with our efforts to increase the team's competitiveness as fast as possible," he said.
"Our qualifying and the early part of the race certainly demonstrated that we are getting there.
"Of course it's painful not to finish races but the most constructive way forward for the team is to analyse the problems and execute the engineering solutions."
If Mercedes had a bad day, then Williams' partners BMW were hardly celebrating after Ralf Schumacher and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya collided at the first corner a year on from finishing first and second.
Ralf retired and Montoya was eighth.
"Obviously it's totally stupid for the team, but it was just a normal racing accident," said BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen. "It can happen. It's history."
Germany did at least have one hero to celebrate, the same man they have cheered for the past decade through 76 wins and more than 200 starts -- six-times world champion Michael Schumacher.
With six wins in seven races, the 35-year-old is in the form of his life
"I feel pretty young, not my age," he said. "I'm having fun, I have a fantastic team behind me who give me the opportunity to do what I'm doing. It's great. I just love what I'm doing."
Formula One: The Complete Coverage