McLaren have an aggressive development program for their car with which they aim to close the gap with Mercedes by the first European race of the Formula One season in May, team racing director Eric Boullier said on Wednesday.
Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen and Britain’s Jenson Button finished second and third respectively in Sunday’s season opener in Melbourne that Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg won comfortably.
Button said Mercedes were about a-second-a-lap quicker than the rest, but Boullier, who joined the team this year from Lotus, felt the gap was less.
“It’s true that Mercedes and Williams have some pace, maybe between half and three-quarters of a second quicker than the rest of the field,” the Frenchman said.
“We focused a lot of our winter on building a solid and reliable car, because we believed — and Australia confirmed our strategy — that reliability was key to taking big points at the beginning of the season,” Boullier told reporters. “Now ... we are pushing very aggressively on performance development — we need to clearly catch up the gap to Mercedes and also some others ... our target is to catch up by Barcelona and build up over the first few races in Europe.”
The Spanish Grand Prix — the fifth of this season’s 19 races — is to be held on May 11.
The podium positions in Australia were McLaren’s first since 2012 after suffering their worst championship in decades last season.
Boullier warned that other teams who underperformed in Melbourne would be much quicker once they resolved their problems.
Champions Red Bull had Australian Daniel Ricciardo disqualified from second place for exceeding the fuel flow rate, while quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel lasted just three laps before retiring.
Red Bull engine provider Renault had a torrid time in pre-season testing, with the title holders arriving in Australia without having completed a race simulation.
Ferrari also said they have work to do, after Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen placed fourth and seventh respectively.