Whitmarsh concedes hopes were too high
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh thinks expectations within the team were raised too high when it won the final two races of last season, and said on Friday that drivers Jenson Button and Sergio Perez have every right to feel disappointed.
The MP4-28 car has been too slow and the exciting-looking Button-Perez partnership has not flourished. Results have been poor: no podium finish, no grid position higher than seventh and no result better than fifth -through Button in China.
"Hero-to-zero happens very quickly in this business. Not so long ago we had the fastest car on the grid and now we don't," Whitmarsh said. "It's tough, and believe me we are annoyed with ourselves."
After coming third in last year's constructors' standing, McLaren is languishing in sixth place and is more than 100 points behind Red Bull. McLaren worked hard on upgrades in Barcelona two weeks ago, but to limited effect as Button finished in eighth place and Perez ninth.
"With the benefit of hindsight we were too ambitious last year. We had a competitive car and made decisions to make very big changes in the expectation of aggressively making a big step forward," Whitmarsh said. "We should have evolved what was already a competitive car. We didn't do that and are paying the cost of it."
Regarded as one of the quickest drivers in F1, the 23-year-old Perez replaced Lewis Hamilton when he left for Mercedes. But the Mexican has struggled for points so far, with a best finish of sixth at the Bahrain GP, and is 11th overall.
"We wanted him to come into a competitive situation, so he's got the right (to be disappointed)," Whitmarsh said. "We are absolutely delighted with him. If we give him a good enough car he will win races."
Button won three GPs last year - including the final race - and placed fifth overall. He is now 10th with a meager 17 points.
"We all thought that he would have (challenged) ... and it's great of him that he has kept this disappointment to himself," Whitmarsh said.
Button has seen signs of improvement since Barcelona, but accepts that the car remains a long way from competing.
"The pace on our long run is surprisingly good, not that that matters so much around here when you're 1.2 seconds off the pace in qualifying," he said. "We're still not setting amazing times out there but I'm happier we're going in the right direction."
Saturday's busy program at the Monaco GP features a practice session in the morning and qualifying in the afternoon. Despite the upgrades, Button is not expecting to be near the front row on Sunday.
"We've got a (new) front wing and a couple of other things, but not half a second (faster)," he said. "The problem around here is that you have to qualify well and that's our weakness at the moment. We just can't get the temperature in the tire."
However, with a new partnership with Honda starting in 2015, Whitmarsh is optimistic for the future. The Japanese car manufacturer is returning to F1 as an engine supplier to McLaren, recreating a partnership that was so dominant before.
"I think teams go through these phases. We are a long-term team," Whitmarsh said. "We've got a good budget and we have a great new partner."
The McLaren-Honda partnership won four consecutive drivers' and constructors' titles between 1988 and 1991.
"The goal is very clear: to consistently win together," Whitmarsh said. "Honda will be around for a long, long time."