Exclusive interview - Norbert Haug 04 Dec 2006
Last weeks Barcelona test looked pretty promising for McLaren Mercedes, despite the absence of their star driver, world champion Fernando Alonso, who will not be joining them until the New Year. Established test driver Pedro de la Rosa was there, along with the new boy-wonder, Lewis Hamilton, the British youngster getting his career as a McLaren racer officially underway. Read what Norbert Haug, DaimlerChryslers man at the helm of the team, has to say about the future
Q: The McLaren Mercedes driver line-up for 2007 is the most stunning one by far: a world champion and a rookie - a 25- and a 21-year-old, the youngest combination on the grid. Whats the philosophy behind it?
Norbert Haug: Oh that's a very kind remark. We are certainly very proud to have Fernando as the reigning two times world champion and Lewis as an upcoming talent in our team. It is quite easy to explain the philosophy behind our choice: Fernando proved to be the most successful Formula One driver in the past two years and Lewis was the most impressive driver climbing up the ladder of talent as we have seen by his winning the Formula 3 Euro Series in 2005 and the GP2 championship in 2006.
Q: Who was the driving force in signing Lewis Hamilton? And what part was played by Vodafone (McLaren Mercedes new title sponsor), who articulated that he envisions a younger image for the team?
NH: Lewis has already been supported by McLaren and Mercedes-Benz for nine years. There was no doubt at all on the part of Ron (Dennis), Martin (Whitmarsh) and myself that Lewis deserves his chance in our team in Formula One after all his success in the junior series. Who else, from all the talents available, would you choose if not him? And our partners are definitely very pleased with this choice.
Q: Post season has now become pre season, with three crucial test sessions taking place before Christmas. Whats the teams preparation schedule like, up until the roll-out of the new car on January 15 in Valencia. You have plenty of changes going on - new car, new tyres, new drivers, new sponsor
NH: Everybody in the team is working in a very focused manner and of course it is - as usual - a very tight schedule until the start of the first race 2007 on 18 March in Melbourne. On the engine side we need to decide by 15 December which parts will be used and homologated within the re-tuning framework of the FIA. On the chassis side there are, for example, new very challenging crash test definitions from the FIA which each team has to comply with. I am sure that we will present a great and fantastic looking car on 15 January at Valencia. But you will have to accept my apologies as I do not want to tell you more at this stage, almost six weeks before the event.
Q: Last season must have been very disappointing and the teams results surely didnt reflect your true worth. What are the crucial areas that have to be worked on for you to regain places in the Formula One pecking order?
NH: We aimed for first and we ended up being third. We were honestly not quite the luckiest guys around and we should have won - in my personal judgement - at least in Monaco, in Hungary and in China, but we ultimately did not. The year before we won 10 out of 18 races, six of them in a row. There are ups and downs in Formula One which not only we experienced. Ferrari for example wasn't too strong in 2005 and they won seven out of nine races in the second half of this year's season. I have no doubt we will be strong again.
Q: The rumours never die concerning a potential buy-out of McLaren by Mercedes. McLaren Mercedes is the only so-called manufacturer team where the manufacturer is not the majority stakeholder. What is the current state of affairs?
NH: DaimlerChrysler were the first ones of the big manufacturers to hold 40 percent of a Formula One team and that was obviously a good example. Our current status is that between McLaren and ourselves all available options to further strengthen our team are under consideration. In the meantime McLaren and Mercedes work as a fully-integrated Formula One team. Indeed we showed our strengths in 05 more than in 06, but be assured that we will be strong again in the near future, and only that is what counts. This is what is important for me: we are a strong team and we work as one since 1995.
Q: Neither Fernando Alonso nor Kimi Raikkonen will be able to get into their new cockpits until January. Some suggest the Alonso-McLaren partnership will gel faster than the Raikkonen-Ferrari combination. What is your take on that?
NH: I hope you are right.
Q: Renault team principal Flavio Briatore is quoted as saying that, to be more attractive to the viewers, a Grand Prix should be split into two 50-minute sessions - one immediately after qualifying on Saturday and one on Sunday. Do you have any contribution to make to the discussion about making a race weekend more attractive?
NH: Well I am always strong enough for a 90-plus minute race and - seriously - Formula One needs to be the pinnacle of motorsport. I personally don't think we should have two races, one on Saturday afternoon, one on Sunday before lunchtime. We had two races in the past in the DTM and switched to one race and two compulsory pit stops. The reason for doing so was the good example of Formula One. Since then DTM is much more successful, has more spectators than ever at the race track and attracts a much bigger television audience.