McLaren to continue developing MP4-28 into the summer

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They may have made a poor start to the 2013 season, but McLaren are not quite ready to give up on the MP4-28 yet, according to managing director Jonathan Neale.

The team currently stands 6th in the championship after four races, with Jenson Button and Sergio Perez failing to score a podium between them yet. Many expected McLaren to shift its focus to 2014 early on in order to be in the best possible position to challenge for next season’s championship, but Neale has said that this will not be the case.

“I think we will be there by the end of the summer,” Neale explained to journalists at McLaren’s HQ on Tuesday. “The reality is that what we’re doing at the moment is essential for next year as well. We have to understand properly what is going on with our car, so in terms in some of the correlation problems we’ve had, we eliminate them.”

Neale believes that without identifying what has caused the team to be well off the pace this season, the same problems could occur next year as well, making it important to continue working on the MP4-28.

“The body of knowledge we’re working on right now is really important because unless we nail the understanding right now then that always lurks there.

“Sometimes you get an overperformance, sometimes you get underperformance, sometimes you get an unwelcome surprise as we did. So I think it’s really important that we do the proper engineering work now to make sure it doesn’t sit in our system anywhere.”

Neale’s comments may surprise many, especially with Mercedes already committing 50% of its workforce to next season’s car. However, McLaren will be keen on returning to the top step of the podium this year if they are to re-establish themselves as front runners.

The team has brought upgrades for the MP4-28 to this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, and the race will be an indicator of just what the British team can achieve this season.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.