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Q&A with McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh 02 Apr 2007

Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) McLaren Chief Executive Officer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race Day, Interlagos, Brazil, 22 October 2006

Can the Mercedes-powered team catch Ferrari at Sepang?

With McLaren currently leading the constructors’ championship, CEO Martin Whitmarsh has enjoyed a positive start to the 2007 season. Here he discusses the team’s success in Australia and reveals his expectations for this week’s race in Malaysia…

Q: Did the performance of the MP4-22 in Melbourne meet your expectations?
Martin Whitmarsh:
The Australian Grand Prix this year was a good experience as it generated a lot of positive feeling within the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team. We had good reliability, no real problems over the course of the weekend and that was extremely satisfying for everybody. The performance of both drivers was also very gratifying, their whole approach was motivational and there is the belief that there is more to come in the future.

However, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes goes to each Grand Prix to win, we didn’t and therefore it fell short of our expectation in that regard. To come away leading the constructors’ championship with a very strong second and third showing was a solid start to the year, and it is the basis upon which we can now build a championship assault.

Formula One now is more competitive than it has ever been, with a lot of well-funded teams and there are high expectations. By comparison to most we came away from Australia with a more positive feeling and we know we will be improving the car race on race. Clearly at the moment we are primarily focused on closing the gap to Ferrari, who have done a good job over the winter, but they are within our grasp.

Q: Were there any specific areas of the MP4-22 that were identified as requiring development focus following its first competitive outing?
MW:
Overall the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-22 is a good car, its systems perform well, and we know in qualifying format it is very good. We also know that we have to better protect the rear Bridgestone Potenza tyres and ensure that we are even more competitive over the long runs. Based on winter testing we had an awareness of these issues before the race, and they are areas we will focus on in our future development programme.

Q: Following Australia, what are your thoughts on the use of two Bridgestone Potenza compounds during a race and how it affects strategy?
MW:
I believe that Bridgestone had two good tyres in Australia; there were clear differences in first lap performance and the development of degradation of each tyre over long runs. This meant they were quite different in characteristic, which you want them to be. It teased some teams into trying to make the option tyre work in the race, which was challenging. Overall it meant that most people were using their option tyres in the last stint. It turned out that BMW Sauber using the option in the first stint had an impact on our race, however it created something different in the race and perhaps it is another facet of interest for the public to understand during the race itself.

Q: What was the focus at the Malaysia test last week?
MW:
We have a car that has been reasonably reliable and it has also demonstrated efficient cooling capacity, so fortunately the test this week has not had to focus significantly on those issues. The areas that we have been looking at have been long run protection of performance as well as general performance uplift. We have had a lot of interesting new components on the car and it was a productive test. But all the other teams are also working hard and improving. During a test, everyone runs with different fuel loads so you can’t read anything from the final times, but on Saturday in Malaysia we will know whether we’ve been able to improve at a faster rate than our competitors.

Q: What are your expectations for the race at Sepang?
MW:
Sepang is a demanding circuit, where we under performed last year. I believe that going into the race this season we have a package that will be competitive and we go with the desire to win. We certainly came away from the first race knowing we have a performance deficit to Ferrari, especially on long runs, and our expectations are to be closer to Ferrari on this circuit.