SEPANG, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh backed luckless Lewis Hamilton to bounce back and challenge for victory in China and the world title this year, in the wake of Sunday's incident-packed Malaysian
After seeing defending champion Sebastian Vettel cruise to his second win in a row this season and his fifth in six outings for Red Bull, Whitmarsh remained bullish about McLaren's prospects and Hamilton's form in particular. "A lot of things happened to Lewis this weekend, but he is a strong guy and he will take heart from all the positives and fight back, I have no doubt about that," said Whitmarsh.
His comments came after Hamilton was handed a 20-second penalty, a punishment that dropped him from seventh to eighth place. Hamilton had fought for pole position, started second on the grid and challenged for victory from a strong second place in the race before bad luck hit him with a slow pit stop.
His woes deepened with a poor set of tyres and then a late loss of pace and an on-track tussle with old adversary Fernando Alonso of Ferrari. Spaniard Alonso, attempting to pass Hamilton in the final laps, accidentally drove into the back of his car, damaging both his Ferrari and Hamilton's McLaren.
For Hamilton, it meant a strong weekend's performance ended up with just four points. "It couldn't have been much worse," he said. "I am not that bothered and I am not reacting. The only way to look at things now is forwards. I go to China now and I am aiming to win."
Whitmarsh pointed out that he will recover quickly for next Sunday's race in Shanghai. "The underlying fact is he was very close to being on pole, and in the race was able to match the performance of Sebastian (Vettel). He is the marker you either have to match or beat, so those are the positives."The result and the mess around it is the disappointment, but that's motor racing, and it won't be the last (disappointment) in his career."
The McLaren chief however took comfort from seeing how easily his other driver Briton Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, handled his tyres on the way to finishing second.
Whitmarsh said he expected his team to be stronger still in Shanghai where Vettel and Red Bull will be bidding to complete a hat-trick of season-opening victories. "Sebastian drove another very mature and controlled race," said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
"It is amazing to think that he is still only 23. I think we all keep forgetting that." Vettel tried to remain modest about his 12th win and his burgeoning reputation as a champion and race winner.
"Don't talk to me about that stuff - look over there, he is my hero," he said, pointing to 42-year-old fellow-German seven-times champion Michael Schumacher. On Sunday's form he will again start as favourite in China, but with his comfort zone reduced by the knowledge that McLaren have closed the gap.