McLaren must capitalise on its current pace advantage while it can, reckons the team's technical director Paddy Lowe, as he admitted that there was a sense of slight frustration that it had 'only' achieved a win and two third places from its front row sweeps in the first two Formula 1 races of 2012
Although Jenson Button won in Melbourne, with polesitting team-mate Lewis Hamilton taking third, in the damp Malaysian Grand Prix Button failed to score following an incident with HRT's Narain Karthikeyan, and Hamilton did not have the pace to join Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez's battle for victory.
"I think it was fantastic to get the grid positions that we got in Australia and Malaysia. Very, very pleased with those," said Lowe in a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes teleconference.
"Even though there were no points for it, getting the front row was tremendous for the team and a great illustration of what they'd achieved.
"We do come away from the first two races slightly disappointed that we haven't translated those two qualifying results into more points.
"We have got some good points, but in this championship - which is long and hard - you need to score the points when you've got the performance, because you can't rely on maintaining it throughout the season.
"We're determined to go to China and not only get the front row again if we can, but to turn that into a good performance on Sunday."
Although Lowe reckons McLaren has not really had a chance to show its true race pace yet this season, he acknowledged that it may well have a greater advantage in qualifying.
"It's very difficult, I think, to conclude anything from the Malaysian race itself. That was dominated by tyre condition and particularly tyre temperature," he said.
"I think we'd look to Australia for a better reference for our race pace. We were a bit challenged for fuel consumption in that race and it wasn't a particularly clean race.
"It does look as though we have a greater advantage in qualiying that the race, and that is something we need to work on. It's a characteristic that we had in reverse with Red Bull last year, where we felt that they were very strong in qualifying and got good grid positions, but actually in race pace they weren't particularly better than us, they just had track position."
Lowe added that McLaren was bringing a substantial upgrade package to China for round three of the title chase.
"We have quite a few upgrades for this event, on pretty much all sectors of the car," he said. "We're hoping for a reasonable step in performance, however we expect that will only be what we need to do to stay where we are in terms of qualifying and race pace.
"I'd be surprised if our principal competitors aren't also coming with reasonable steps forward, that's the name of the game. We're into the relentless battle of in-season development, particularly between the top teams. That's started already and we'll have to play our part and see if we can maintain the qualifying lead we have."
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