Analysis: No Reward for McLaren Speed

McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen could have been celebrating two podium finishes from the first two races of the Formula One season

Analysis: No Reward for McLaren Speed

Instead, the Finn heads for the third round in Bahrain next week with just one point in the bag and his team sixth in the Championship.

That is still a pretty big improvement on 2004, when Raikkonen retired from the first three races with exploding engines and mechanical failure, but he and his bosses had hoped for so much more.

Renault's runaway success and Ferrari's spluttering start to the Championship have masked the fact that McLaren, tipped for great things after an abject 2004 campaign, have missed opportunities.

Of the sport's three most successful title-winning teams, Mercedes-powered McLaren are alone without a podium finish.

Ferrari did it, despite running a version of last year's car that has passed its sell-by date, with Brazilian Rubens Barrichello in Australia while Williams had Germany's Nick Heidfeld third in Malaysia.

McLaren, who could legitimately have expected to beat Ferrari and Williams with both cars in the early rounds of the season after impressive testing times, can justifiably curse their misfortune. They can also point the finger at a driver pairing that should be one of the strongest in the sport.

Fastest Lap

The MP4-20 is a potential winner, close to the Renault on race pace and reliable with Montoya and Raikkonen among only six drivers who have completed two full Grand Prix distances.

At Sepang last Sunday, Raikkonen set the fastest lap of the race and his strategy had looked good for third place at least until a valve blew on his right rear tyre.

Limping back to the pits with three wheels on his wagon, the 2003 Championship runner-up finished ninth. Colombian teammate Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth after 'flat-spotting' a front tyre, putting the car out of balance.

Raikkonen could not be blamed for the puncture but it was a different story in Australia on March 6, where the 25-year-old started at the back after qualifying 10th on the grid and then causing an aborted start by stalling.

Although Raikkonen came back to finish eighth, his race was a missed opportunity that hurt; Barrichello had started 11th while Renault's Fernando Alonso was an impressive third from 13th place.

Team principal Ron Dennis recognised at the weekend that his much-vaunted 'fire and ice' combination had not made life easy for themselves.

"When we go testing we don't tell our drivers 'Oh by the way, can you do five laps and drive all over the kerbs and off the road'. But that's what took place there," he said of the Melbourne race.

"In trying to overtake slower cars in front of them, both Kimi and Juan Pablo ran wide on corners and took off the deflectors," he added. "We were walking wounded then. That had quite a big difference on the overall balance of the car.

"Our pace in the race, post the deflectors, was just not the true pace...we know we are less aggressive on the tyres than any other team so with a bit of luck that will play to our strengths.

"To be able to take advantage of that we need intact aerodynamics for the latter part of the Grand Prix and then we'll see if there's a benefit coming from them."

New Car

Rivals are aware that McLaren have yet to realise their potential, with Renault's Pat Symonds warning in Australia that the MP4-20 was likely to be a match for his team at certain circuits. However the opportunities to pick up easy points are disappearing, with the competition hotting up.

Ferrari are pressing their new car into service in Bahrain ahead of schedule while struggling BAR expect to raise their game considerably.

Renault and Toyota, a surprising second in Malaysia for the first podium finish since they entered Formula One in 2002, have a steady flow of improvements in the pipeline.

McLaren, who hope to be challenging for the title by the end of the longest season in Formula One history, cannot afford to throw away more points.

"We lack in two or three areas, we know where they are and they are being addressed," said Dennis after the first qualifying session in Malaysia.

"Our target is Spain, to bring in the next series of changes to both the car and engine in Spain, and we are reasonably comfortable that our performance is going in the right direction.

"Would we like to be on the front row? Yes. But we're not and so we just need to work a bit harder."

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