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Whitmarsh: revitalised McLaren well placed for 2010 05 Aug 2009

(L to R): Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) McLaren Chief Executive Officer and race winner Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren celebrate on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 26 July 2009 Lewis Hamilton (GB), McLaren, McLaren MP4-24, Hungarian Grand Prix 2009, Hungaroring, Sunday, 26 July 2009. © Martin Trenkler Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren, Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren and Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) McLaren Chief Executive Officer at the McLaren Team Celebration.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 26 July 2009 The McLaren MP4/24 of race winner Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 26 July 2009

McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh has hailed his team’s recent renaissance, admitting that they headed down something of a developmental dead-end earlier in the season. McLaren scored just 14 points in the first nine races, before returning to the top step of the podium in Hungary.

“To stand there as team principal was a very, very proud moment for me personally because I’m proud to be a member of this team, proud of what everyone has done in this team and that’s been a fantastic effort to recover,” said Whitmarsh. “In any season it’s difficult to recover. To recover in a season with no track testing is an amazing effort by everyone.”

By their own admission, McLaren were shocked to find themselves about 2.5s off the pace at the start of the year. Convinced the MP4-24’s design was fundamentally sound, the team put huge efforts into resolving its lack of downforce, but were initially unable to achieve the rate of development needed to catch their rivals.

“We were for a variety of reasons some way behind in terms of the aerodynamic performance,” said Whitmarsh. “And whilst we had made progress - and we made very good progress in a very short period of time - I sensed this was coming to a plateau of performance. And that required us to have a dramatic rethink.”

According to Whitmarsh, the turning point coincided with the team’s home race at Silverstone, which saw reigning champion Lewis Hamilton trail home a lowly 16th, a lap down on the leaders, after qualifying only 18th in front of his British fans.

“I think I said at the time, sometimes you’ve got to step backwards to go forward,” he continued. “We made some fundamental changes to weight distribution and we started to accept that we needed a completely different aerodynamic philosophy. Perhaps inadvertently, for a whole variety of reasons, we’d got ourselves into a cul de sac of development and we needed to reverse out of that.”

Looking back, Whitmarsh hinted that McLaren’s intense battle with Ferrari for the 2008 championship had almost certainly hindered their 2009 preparations, with the major regulation changes compounding the problem. He also admitted that their approach to the new rules may have been too conservative, after seeing Brawn and their double diffuser dominate the opening races.

“It’s clear now - I guess it should have been clearer last year - that other teams were putting a huge amount of resource (into 2009), having effectively given up under the other technical regulations. And perhaps also were being slightly more adventurous in their interpretation of the rules than perhaps we could have afforded to be.

“That gave them a head start. We went into this year nine months behind a lot of our competitors in terms of development and that was why it’s been a real battle to get back on terms.”

Despite their unexpectedly poor start to 2009, Whitmarsh insists he never doubted McLaren’s ability to recover. And with more developments on the way for the next round in Valencia, he believes the team are now well placed for the rest of this season - as well as for next year, when revisions to the regulations will be relatively minimal.

“The aerodynamic rule changes for next year are negligible. We obviously have the prohibition of refuelling, that's the biggest change, but that doesn’t affect the overall aerodynamic package. I think we’ve got every reason to be confident, but at the same time we’re not going to be complacent - we know how competitive Formula One is.

“A lot of the teams have already stopped the development this year, they’re committed to next year, and we’ve got to make sure we do a better job than them and that we are competitive. That’s certainly the goal of this team and everyone in it - to be out there, competitive, and winning races and the world championship next year.”