McLaren-Mercedes managing director Martin Whitmarsh says that the heavily-revised MP4-17D will be a match for Ferrari at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.

McLaren-Mercedes managing director Martin Whitmarsh says that the heavily-revised MP4-17D will be a match for Ferrari at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.

The Woking-based team has kept a low profile over F1’s winter break session and is the only team, with the exception of Minardi, that hasn’t yet launched its 2003-season car, the MP4-18.

But Whitmarsh told that McLaren had upped its performance over the winter break and the team would be more competitive at Melbourne than was the case last season.

"There has been no effort spared during the off season," said Whitmarsh. "The entire team has worked incredibly hard to increase our overall competitiveness. Although there are no quick fixes, we do not intend to continue to underperform."

McLaren will race the MP4-17D for at least the first three races.

"The MP4-17D has a new transmission, rear suspension, aerodynamics package and the front suspension that we incorporated at the end of 2002," Whitmarsh said. "The MP4-18 will be introduced during the European season, at a point where it represents an improved package."

Long-time McLaren pilot David Coulthard has said the new rules and qualifying system would not disrupt the team’s rhythm.

"We do feel confident that we will have a competitive car for 2003. However, we are aware of the challenge and will have to wait and see how we perform in Melbourne," said Coulthard.

"We are also looking forward to establishing how the revised qualifying system will demand new tactics to ensure we extract the full potential of myself and the cars," the Scot added.

Kimi Raikkonen, the Scot's team-mate, is also confident on his return to the circuit that saw him claim his first F1 podium last year. "There is a good feeling of motivation at Team McLaren-Mercedes. We have conducted some positive tests with the MP4-17D during the off-season and it will now be great to get back to racing again, particularly in Melbourne," the Finn said.