McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh has revealed that Lewis Hamilton lost about 10 points of downforce early in the Korean Grand Prix because of an unidentified problem.
The British driver has started from pole position but was overtaken early on by Red Bull rival Sebastian Vettel, who went on to open a gap that allowed him to enjoy a quiet race from the front. Vettel won the event by 12 seconds over Hamilton, who had to do his best to keep Mark Webber at bay to maintain second place.
Whitmarsh, whose team had looked as favorite for victory since Friday, said Hamilton was hit by a loss of downforce that cost him valuable time during the race.
"We had a reasonable launch, we had a shocking first lap and after that we appear to have lost some front downforce," explained Whitmarsh. "Whether that is damage or debris or something else caught in the front wing, so Lewis lost about 10 points of downforce, which meant it was a bit of a handful.
"In those circumstances we were not fast enough today but the stand out drive has to be Lewis because I think who would have said with 30 laps to go he had a car behind him that was at that point of the race quicker, he had a powerful DRS and Lewis should take a lot of satisfaction from this weekend.
"To take pole was good and given the circumstances in the race, that was a truly fantastic race from him. So congratulations to Red Bull but Lewis did an outstanding job and made what was a fairly gripping race for us, he will not be satisfied by not being first but professionally he should be satisfied with the job he did this weekend."
Whitmarsh said Hamilton's teammate Jenson Button, who dropped from third to eighth on the opening lap, was also having a similar issue. The team boss described the first lap as "shocking" and said it is something the British squad will have to analyze.
"During the race we are concentrating, but during the first stint we could see a loss and when I asked what it is, quantify, it – I was told 10 points," he added. "I don't know whether there was damage, whether we have got some rubber in the slot of whatever, but in fairness Jenson was losing front downforce as well so it is something.
"We had a shocking first lap and we need to understand that – maybe there is something we are doing wrong on the first lap but that is not the first time we have had a shocking first lap, to come around second and eighth after the first lap is not quite what we had in mind."