World champion Lewis Hamilton, and his teammate Heikki Kovalainen, are likely to qualify "in the last third" of the Melbourne grid next weekend.

World champion Lewis Hamilton, and his teammate Heikki Kovalainen, are likely to qualify "in the last third" of the Melbourne grid next weekend.

That is the frank admission of Norbert Haug, who has spoken candidly about McLaren's winter problems with the new MP4-24 car.

In an official race preview on Friday, team figures admitted outright victory at Albert Park is unlikely.

World champion Hamilton, who won the event in 2008 after securing pole, said he doesn't have "the same prospects" for success this year as in the past, while Kovalainen admitted the Woking based team "probably won't start the season as favourites."

Team boss Martin Whitmarsh said McLaren is "fully aware" fighting at the front is not a prospect for Australia, while Mercedes chief Haug said winning "may not be possible."

In an interview with the German news agency SID, however, Haug was more candid about the car's competitiveness, and also the time it may take for its problems to be resolved.

"After our test results, we must get used to the fact that in Melbourne we will be in the last third of the starting order," the German is quoted as saying.

"Clearly we have to improve our technical package," Haug continued. "This process needs time and it could be the start of the European season (before McLaren is competitive), perhaps even longer."

 

McLaren to be near back of grid - Haug