The last new McLaren never made it into competition but its successor, the MP4-19, is a big step forward, according to team test driver Pedro de la Rosa. Kimi Raikkonen took the challenge to Michael Schumacher in 2003 with the interim MP4-17D but the 19 is a whole new car, and will reportedly debut at Melbourne in March 2004.
The Spaniard, who raced for Jaguar prior to becoming a test driver, set not only the fastest time at Valencia. "On my first day in the car, I broke the lap record," he said. "The team wanted me to slow down, but I told them: 'I'm not pushing'".
"Even so, the lap times kept coming down. I feel very positive. The car is so easy to drive. It is very sensitive to changes -- responsive in a good way. If you have a problem, you change something, and the car behaves better."
Despite that achievement, there is still caution. McLaren is the only team to have tested a new car against others so far and so it remains to be see what kind of progress rivals have made. For de la Rosa, the best benchmark is how the 19 measures up to the 2003 car.
"What is important for McLaren is not how quick we were compared to the other cars, but how much quicker MP4-19 is than MP4-17D," he explained. "We were the only guys with a new car, so we have to be careful (about reading too much into the times)."
"But the advantage we have is that we were the first to bring out a new car - and reliability is very important in F1 now, especially with the new rules on engines next year. Things are looking reasonably good, but we can't be complacent."