Lewis unfazed by McLaren’s qualy meltdown

Hamilton Monza2Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton says he is relishing the prospect of battling from the back of the grid in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix after enduring a disastrous start to his title defence.

The McLaren driver dominated the race last year en-route to his maiden title but now finds himself starting last after a gearbox problem prevented him from taking part in the second qualifying knock-out session today in Melbourne.

Although Hamilton’s fastest lap in the first qualifying session was enough to put him in fifteenth place, McLaren have elected to change his gearbox unit meaning he will get a grid penalty.

“It was a gear failure and although we are allowed to change gears under the regulations, we will change the gearbox,” team principal Martin Whitmarsh told reporters.

McLaren have conceded that they have a colossal amount of work to do before they can challenge for race wins. In the meantime Hamilton says he is looking forward to jostling with his rivals in the mid-field.

“Something broke on the rear of my car on my second flying lap in Q1,” Lewis explained. “I just lost all drive in the gearbox and couldn’t continue. The team will look at the problem tonight and I m determined to drive an attacking race we ll have some fun from 15th tomorrow.”

“My congratulations to Jenson and everyone at Brawn GP they have done a fantastic job all weekend and have a lot to look forward to tomorrow.”

Heikki Kovalainen in the sister McLaren endured an equally troublesome qualifying session. The Finn wound up fourteenth but reported improvements in the balance of his MP4-24.

“The car s overall balance was good,” he said, “we just don t have enough grip at the moment to make the best use of it. The team has worked so hard, and we have made progress over the past few weeks so it gives us all a lot of hope that we will get back to the front before too long.”

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said he was impressed with his drivers’ performances given the difficult circumstances, but he conceded that the progress the team have made in recent weeks has not been enough to bring them into contention.

“Both drivers did a good job, though, in circumstances that were difficult for us all,” he said.

“The reality is that we ve made progress in the past couple of weeks, but clearly not enough. There s more to come, though, and everyone at Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart is working as hard as they can to turn things around in the shortest time possible.”

“A gearbox problem for Lewis in Q1 probably a broken dog ring but we’ll have to investigate it to know for sure prevented him from setting as quick a time as he might otherwise have been able to, but at least he got through to Q2 even if he was unable to take part in it.”

“Heikki’s first quick lap in Q2 was solid – but his next fast lap was quicker in sectors one and two but unfortunately not quicker in sector three. He therefore missed out on getting through to Q3 by less than half a second.

Mercedes-Benz boss Norbert Haug added: “Heikki did a solid job and made best use of the pace offered by the car. It s a shame that Lewis suffered a gearbox problem, which should not happen when he was on his best lap so far there was not such a problem during more than 7000 km of testing.”

“Our speed was obviously not great, however Kimi and Nick who were also both running KERS were respectively 0.35s and 0.25s ahead of us, and Fernando is not more than 0.15s away. But of course, we have to continue to improve dramatically. Congratulations to Brawn GP for a superb debut. We are especially happy that our Mercedes-Benz engine powers the whole front row.”