McLaren issue warning to Red Bull
But despite Vettel's fairly straightforward victory, Whitmarsh saw plenty of reason to feel optimistic that his outfit could continue to build on the impressive progress it has made in the last 10 days.
"We should have had two cars on the podium here," he explained. "Lewis was not quite as quick as Sebastian, but I think until we had the floor damage he was not far from him.
"I think that his tyre usage was slightly lighter than the Ferraris, Red Bulls and most of the quick cars, with the exception of (Sergio) Perez - and how that (one-stop strategy) happened I don't know.
"So that is encouraging, and that will become more critical somewhere like Sepang, which is going to be heavier on tyres. If people here were having to three-stop and we were comfortably able to two-stop, then maybe that will be an advantage. It depends how it falls."
After a disastrous Barcelona test, McLaren gambled on ditching its radical 'octopus' exhaust layout for the start of the season and opted for a design similar to that pioneered by Red Bull Racing.
That decision paid off hugely, and Whitmarsh believes that his outfit is only at the beginning of its development potential in this area.
"We know that what we did here was a fairly improvised set of modifications, and we can certainly improve on those by the time we get to Malaysia.
"Seb (Vettel) is doing a fantastic job, and so is Adrian (Newey), so we have to work hard, and that is what we are here for. The prospect now is for a great championship.
"Ferrari did look off the pace and so did Mercedes. But they are two great teams, they have the knowledge and capability, and we saw how Ferrari made a great recovery last year.
"This is race one and I think it was a reasonably encouraging start, certainly by comparison to winter testing. We will now see what we can do for the rest of the season."
When asked if it was a depressing prospect that Red Bull Racing still had at least three tenths of potential to come from its KERS, Whitmarsh said: "If we make as much progress in the next 10 days as we did in the last 10 then it will be easy, won't it?
"Three tenths is not insignificant, but you can make those steps. They (Red Bull Racing) have got to keep pushing, and if they don't we will attack. But I am sure they are going to keep pushing. They are a good team."