Sponsors and merchandise producers affiliated to McLaren will be somewhat worried by the poor performance of the team in Malaysia. After a brilliant start to the season in Australia McLaren suffered in the heat of Sepang and fell behind rivals Ferrari. Merchandise companies and sponsors will be hoping that it was purely a blip in the season and will be counting on a strong performance in Bahrain in a couple of weeks.
The problems started during qualifying for McLaren as both drivers fell behind the pace of the Ferraris. After initially qualifying in third and fourth, due to accusations that the team had held up other racers both Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton were put back five places. The qualifying penalties were questionable although McLaren did not pursue appeals to the FIA. Formula 1 is heavily regulated and breaking any of these regulations undoubtedly leads to penalties. The Merchandise producers and sponsors will be hoping that no such penalties will be incurred in the upcoming Bahrain GP.
Ron Dennis, one of the management team at McLaren has however stated that the past weekend did not show the true pace of their cars, nor did it mark a general trend for the rest of the season. Merchandise producers and sponsors who back the team will be putting pressure on; ensuring that the promises of podium finishes made at the start of the season are delivered. Dennis went further to argue that the true pace of the McLaren cars will not be truly visible until the Formula 1 tour comes to Europe; as Australia, Malaysia and Bahrain are such testing circuits; it is not until Barcelona that the championship contest will become readily apparent.
Unfortunately for F1 prodigy Lewis Hamilton, a pit stop blunder blighted his chances of success. Instead of a regulation nine seconds, the Brit was held up for nineteen due to a seized wheel nut. Without the wheel nut malfunction it is believed Hamilton may have been able to achieve a podium place or at least a fourth position finish. Lewis Hamilton was also held up in traffic behind during the race, a problem caused by the penalty incurred during qualifying. With such a large number of merchandise producers, sponsors and fans back in Britain, the British nation will be backing Hamilton to extend the marginal three point lead he holds over the rest of the pack in the next race.
The fact that Hamilton was held up so considerably during the race could be a symptom of the new regulations concerning traction control. After traction control has been taken away from drivers the readiness to push the car to the limit has suffered, this applies not only to McLaren but to all cars in the Formula 1 paddock. Despite the fact that Hamilton had a poor race, the McLaren car's performance and reliability was infallible in a race where high temperatures truly test the cars manufacturing quality. The fact both cars in the team finished will please the swathes of sponsors and merchandise producers affiliated to the team.
One thing that will be worrying the team management, sponsors and merchandise companies is the pace of the BMW Sauber cars. They were consistently on the pace and set the fastest lap of the race; being fast enough to benefit from the spin of Felipe Massa in his Ferrari. BMW will be hoping to build upon this performance and consistently return podium performances whilst putting pressure on the two top teams Ferrari and McLaren.
All eyes will now be upon Bahrain. McLaren go into the race leading both the constructor's and driver's championships although if a strong performance is not forthcoming they may well find themselves wanting for the rest of the season. It is early days still in terms of the season but these first three races challenge both drivers and teams to the limit. If any team can get through them and return solid performances the rest of the season can be made easier. The hope for affiliate sponsors and merchandise producers will be that McLaren can still be atop both championships by the time the F1 tour comes to Europe.
Motor sport expert Thomas Pretty follows Formula 1 avidly and has purchased much of the McLaren merchandise range to support his favourite team.