Dennis expects McLaren to fight at the top
|By Jonathan Noble
||Thursday, March 9th 2006, 10:29 GMT
McLaren boss Ron Dennis expects his team to be fighting at the top when the season kicks off this weekend in Bahrain.
The British squad endured a troubled start to their winter testing, with constant reliability problems hindering their progress.
The Mercedes engine in particular had to be revised heavily before McLaren began to show their strength.
Some teams, like Renault and Honda, have been seen as stronger during winter testing, especially because of questions about the reliability of the McLaren.
But Dennis, whose team won 10 races last season and finished in second place in the standings, believes McLaren are ready to fight at the very top on Sunday.
The Briton, however, refused to speak of confidence.
"Confidence is not in our vocabulary, it is a weakness not a strength," Dennis told reporters in Bahrain.
"We have done a reasonably competent job in testing, and it is clear the car has got progressively more competitive and whatever the outcome of this race we will be stronger in every race through the season, that is our trademark as we were, that we continuously improve.
"What is difficult to determine is the level of competitiveness of the other teams. We spend a great deal of the initial testing on quite high fuel loads. We had some initial reliability issues which were very apparent and there was no point compounding those by pushing hard on the engine so that all reflected in relatively slow lap times in initial testing.
"When we came to grips with the problems then the laptimes dropped. Are we competitive compared to the other teams? I think Sunday will be a demonstration of where we are. We have a realistic understanding.
"We think there has been some showmanship from some of the other teams, and we if we are not there then we won't be too far away."
Dennis, however, believes is hard to predict which teams will be fighting for victory on Sunday, but claims the Michelin runners will have an edge over their Bridgestone rivals.
"I would rather not express a point of view on it," he added. "I think that all teams have varying levels of discipline and there is an understanding of fuel loads and tyre type, so you are able to see patterns and see steepness of degradation, see where consistency is in those areas and if something suddenly spikes out then you tend to ignore it.
"There could be a quirky reason, some of the circuits tend to always start green and get progressively quicker but we think there are three teams very close together, but that precludes the Bridgestone teams.
"We believe that we understand where they are in their tyre competitiveness, we are not quite sure which the pecking order is of the car on the Bridgestones but it appears that Michelin at the moment have an edge."
McLaren's boss has also tipped Juan Pablo Montoya to enjoy a stronger season than in 2005, when the Colombian driver was overshadowed by teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
"Juan Pablo worked very hard through the winter and I hope the rewards from his efforts come," Dennis said. "He is a very, very determined and very committed to raising his game. Very impressive in how he has set about the winter."
Dennis said Montoya's main motivation is to win the title, and played down suggestions that the driver may want to raise his game following the announcement that Fernando Alonso will take one of the McLaren seats next year.
"I don't think it had any negative or positive influence," Dennis said of Alonso's deal. "I think it is clear that he (Montoya) wants to win races and World Championships, as does Kimi of course, and I think he looked for anything within his own power to increase that possibility."