McLaren aim to close the gap on Red Bull at Turkey GP

By Sarah HoltBBC Sport

McLaren are confident that they will again challenge pacesetters Red Bull at this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix.

McLaren hope an updated car will help Lewis Hamilton, who won in China, and team-mate Jenson Button eat into their rivals' pace advantage.

"We'll continue to be competitive," stressed McLaren chief race engineer Phil Prew.

"Were between three tenths and half a second off the pace of Red Bull and that is the gap we're aiming to close."

Hamilton's victory in Shanghai took the Englishman to within 21 points of Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel's championship lead with Button a further nine points back in third.

The three-week break has given all 12 Formula 1 teams a chance to plot further upgrades for the European leg of the season which begins in the cross-continental city of Istanbul this weekend.

McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said the team would be arriving in Istanbul with a "number of small modifications" after a decent spell back at their Woking headquarters.

"It gave us a good opportunity to reflect on our performance and to push forward the developments which have come out of that analysis," Prew added.

"We've also had both the race drivers in for technical debriefings to further understand where our performance is.

"There is continual improvement to be made in all areas.

"We don't have the fastest car at the moment and Red Bull are still the team that we are aiming to close the gap on.

"We're adding upgrades to the car in Turkey which we're hoping will help us do that.

"The difference between the cars varies from track to track and Turkey should be a reasonably strong track for ourselves."

Vettel has taken a cleansweep of pole positions in 2011 and at the last race in Shanghai Button was the world champion's closest challenger, 0.7secs shy of the German's pace.

While Hamilton broke Vettel's winning streak with victory in Shanghai, Prew said that McLaren are still trying to understand why Red Bull remain untouchable in terms of pure pace.

"I think tyre optimisation may be one area, and the use of elaborate engine modes may be another - with the generation of downforce being highly influenced by the exhaust flows," Prew continued.

"There are many reasons why it may exist and we are aiming to improve our performance in qualifying and the race, and hopefully close in both areas."

Hamilton defeated Vettel in China thanks to a brilliant getaway off the line and a clever strategy that resulted in the 2008 champion making the most of a fresh set of tyres after taking one more pit stop than Vettel.

BBC commentator Martin Brundle explained: "It was a spectacular success for McLaren but let us not forget that, despite a wrong strategy call, Vettel still finished a close second to Hamilton, with [team-mate Mark] Webber closing in very hard."

With the new Pirelli tyres expected to be pushed even harder at Istanbul Park than at the opening three races, Prew said that strategy and tyre management will be a defining factor this weekend.

"The degradation and the wear on both the soft and hard tyres will be a challenge at this race as it's a very demanding circuit," Prew added.

"We are still learning about the tyres to be honest. Every time we go to a new track we are seeing slightly different performance profiles.

"We have to be a bit more dynamic on the pit wall than we were in the past but we have a strong team who are working specifically to optimise the strategy of both cars."

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