SEPANG, Malaysia, March 23, 2013 (AFP/Talek Harris) - McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh sidestepped questions about his future Saturday but admitted "we lost our way" with a new car design after their early season woes continued at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Whitmarsh, under fire after failing to win a world title in four years at the helm, conceded 2009 champion Jenson Button and Sergio Perez had little chance of victory in Sunday's race after they qualified just eighth and tenth respectively.
And Whitmarsh, who watched his drivers finish ninth and 11th at last week's season-opener in Australia, did not rule out the radical option of scrapping the car and returning to last year's model.
"Clearly we lost our way in developing this car. Formula One is a relentless and unforgiving environment for mistakes," he said. "The fact is we took too long to realise that. We are responding now. This weekend and last weekend have been incredibly difficult for the team.
"People expect us to be at the front, we expect to be at the front. And every time the car left the garage it was an experiment in process. And the car has a long way to go."
The poor start to the year has set off a clamour for the return of successful former team principal Ron Dennis, now McLaren's chairman. Whitmarsh said that would be a decision for the shareholders -- and joked that fans like Dennis "because he's warm and cuddly".
McLaren lost Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes last season, with technical director Paddy Lowe now headed in the same direction. New technical chief Tim Goss is such a recent appointment that his name, on a sticker, is pasted over Lowe's in the Malaysian Grand Prix media guide.
Whitmarsh said it was not his decision to take the "risk" with the new car, hinting that Lowe was instrumental. And he said "all things are options" when asked if McLaren would return to the 2012 model, which won the last two races of the season.
"All things are options. We've not ruled anything out but we've made progress here," he said. "We want to make this car into a winning car... but I recognise we haven't given them a good enough car to give them the comfortable option of winning the race tomorrow."
However, Button said improvements were already noticeable with McLaren now closing the gap on the leading teams. Button and Perez will start Sunday's race in seventh and ninth after Kimi Raikkonen was hit with a grid penalty.
"We'll work hard, we will get to a position where we can win. We've had some black moments before and we've come through," Whitmarsh said.