McLaren were involved in a desperate race against the clock on Friday night to salvage some hope for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix – and with it the entire season.
Two front wings were being rushed from the team's Woking HQ to Barcelona, one travelling by air and the other by road, following Friday's failure of their upgrade package to boost performance. They are hoping they will have arrived in time for Saturday afternoon's qualifying session.
The team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, said: "We have two front wings coming tonight. One is on a non-stop 12-hour drive and another will be on a light aircraft out of Southend, because it has a 24-hour open airfield."
McLaren have made a dismal start to the season, with only 23 points from four races, and are sixth in the constructors' championship, already 86 behind the leaders, Red Bull.
If they fall further behind here their hopes of winning either championship are realistically over. But Whitmarsh conceded: "It will be a tough ask to get a podium here. Today was disappointing. It wasn't a good feeling today to see the amount of work that has gone on and the amount of progress that hasn't been made, to the level we wanted.
"We're going to be pushing quite hard for some time to come. We can't be satisfied where we are. It may be we're lacking in overall downforce now. We'd have liked to have overcome our difficulties. Right now it's painful. But there is a belief that we have a platform to work on. I don't believe that the work we've done has been wasted."
But there was no progress on Friday as the team's drivers, Jenson Button and Sergio Pérez, came 12th and 13th in the afternoon practice run – worse than in the previous race in Bahrain. A clearly disappointed Button, looking forward to Sunday's race, said: "I think you will see four teams that are very compressed at the front but I don't think we will be one of them. We can improve overnight but the thing with this sport is that everyone is moving forward, so even if we have gained, everyone has gained. It's tricky but we are working flat out to improve.
"There are some positives with the balance but we are still a hell of a long way off the pace. I hope we are more competitive tomorrow with getting the right set-up. We will see some improvements but not to be fighting at the front."
Sebastian Vettel, the championship leader, was fastest in practice at the Circuit de Catalunya on Friday afternoon, pushing the local hero Fernando Alonso into second place. They were followed by Mark Webber, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton, who spun his Mercedes early in the proceedings.
Alonso's Ferrari and the Red Bulls were the most impressive cars on show. Webber was the first to go top before he was overtaken by Alonso. Webber went back to the top of the timings after the teams switched to the softer medium tyres but then his Red Bull team-mate Vettel did for both the Australian and the Spaniard as merely 0.083sec covered the leading three cars.
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