March 15th (GMM) McLaren on Friday admitted it is now "worried" about the pace of the new MP4-28 car. Jenson Button was just ninth in opening practice in Melbourne, before lagging more than two seconds off the pace in the second ninety minute session.
Team newcomer Sergio Perez was consistently even slower.
"I think we should be worried about the pace," team boss Martin Whitmarsh told British broadcaster Sky.
"It is a tough day in the office for everyone at the moment, we are lacking grip and there is a lot of head scratching at the moment," he said.
While most top teams - notably continuing pacesetters Red Bull - simply evolved their 2012 cars for the final season of V8 regulations, McLaren unveiled a radical new car for this year, including novel pull-rod front suspension.
"I think we are still learning and there is a lot we still need to learn about this car," Whitmarsh added, "but we have struggled frankly to quite understand how it is performing."
Sporting director Sam Michael likened McLaren's new struggles to Ferrari's of early last year, when Fernando Alonso would ultimately go on to challenge for the title.
"By the fourth or fifth race they were there," he said.
Drivers thinking wasn't too different from the ones coming from Managemet.
Jenson Button, who was only able clock 9th best in the second session (and 11th in the morning) commented: “Clearly, we’re not as quick as we’d like to be, so our task now is to work hard to find out why our car is like it is, particularly in terms of ride and downforce.
"We’re a couple of seconds off the pace, by the looks of things, and that’s always going to be disappointing for a team as successful as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.
“Qualifying won’t be easy, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to do a better job on Saturday than we’ve done today.”
Segio Perez did not do better than his teammate and finished with the 11th and 13th best times.
“We’re struggling a bit, to be honest. We aren’t as competitive here as we’d wanted to be. But we’re working on it – and, as Jenson says, we should be able to find some improvements for tomorrow.
“But, going forward, I know exactly how good Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’ technical guys are – I’ve seen it from the outside before and I’m seeing it from the inside now – and there’s no doubt that they can close the gap to the cars ahead better and faster than anyone else." Said Perez.