McLaren urge teams to challenge Red Bull in 2012

By Sarah HoltBBC Sport

McLaren boss Jonathan Neale has urged Red Bull's rivals to step up and challenge the champions in 2012 to avoid another one-sided title battle.

Sebastian Vettel underlined Red Bull's dominance this year by winning a second world title with four races to go.

"There is every opportunity that they could [dominate again]," warned Neale.

"The reality is the rest of us have to do a better job. They are not going to be holding back, but you would write McLaren or Ferrari off at your peril."

The relative stability in the regulations for next season means the champions will be confident they can carry forward their momentum as their rivals spend the winter working hard to try and match designer Adrian Newey's peerless Red Bull.

The one major change to the rules governing car design concerns the layout of the exhaust and a ban on using gasses to boost downforce by blowing them over the car's rear diffuser.

But even at the start of the 2009 season when Red Bull ran without the aid of double or blown diffusers - the two key performance tools over the last two seasons - their car was still quick, and Neale concedes that means they could prove uncatchable in 2012.

"They've got themselves into a good position with a package that works well under these regulations and on these tyres and clearly they've been able to exploit that in the last two years," said McLaren Racing managing director Neale.

"The one thing that is going to change quite dramatically are the technical regulations that affect the exhaust geometry and blown downforce so there will be some car changes from this year to next, but it's always a good boost to finish the season well.

"Our ambition is to be at the front - and so is Ferrari's - but you would never bet against Red Bull being very strong."

McLaren approach this weekend's season finale in Brazil buoyed by Lewis Hamilton's victory at the last race in Abu Dhabi.

It was the team's sixth victory of the season, with both Hamilton and team-mate Jenson Button taking three wins apiece, and Neale says the team are confident they can challenge for victory at the rollercoaster Interlagos circuit.

"The car should be competitive in Interlagos," said Neale. "There's not a large upgrade package as most of our focus is on next year.

"Lewis drove consistently in Abu Dhabi and that will be a boost to his confidence.

"Jenson is currently 10 points clear of [Ferrari's] Fernando Alonso in second place [in the drivers' championship] and has had a really good second half of this year.

"Both drivers want to win this race and we're all looking to a good race - and to the end of what's been a long season as well."

Neale also responded to recent speculation that Honda were pondering a return to F1 as McLaren's engine partner in 2014.

"That's all wide of the mark," said Neale. "We're wedded to and very happy with our partnership with Mercedes-Benz.

"We're not quite sure where this broke from in truth so I can scotch that rumour and say we are focused on our relationship with Mercedes-Benz and long may that continue."

The final grand prix of the season in Brazil begins with first practice on Friday 25 November at 1200 GMT.

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