Q&A with McLarens Martin Whitmarsh 26 Apr 2007
Having had a few days to digest McLarens strong start to the season, CEO Martin Whitmarsh caught up with the teams press office to discuss how new drivers Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton are fitting in and to look ahead to the next round in Spain
Q: How does it feel to come away from the opening three races leading both championships? Is it more than you expected?
Martin Whitmarsh: Coming away from the first three Grands Prix there is generally a positive feeling throughout the whole Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team and I think that is important. It lays the foundations for a real championship assault throughout the season. With regards to expectations, I think we have a clear target to win every race and championship we compete in. We dont spend time dwelling on what to expect, we really focus on what we are trying to achieve.
Q: Now McLaren are at the top of the drivers and constructors table, what work is taking place to ensure the championship challenge continues all season?
MW: The results so far demonstrate that we have a reasonably competitive car. It is now very clear that this year's championships will be as much decided in the race to develop the car as the racing that occurs on Sunday afternoons. We are now in the middle of a relatively large and unprecedented gap in Formula One racing, with a four week interval. During this time we are testing at the Barcelona circuit where the next race will be held. We would therefore target the largest incremental improvement in car performance from one race to another. This will not just be with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, but within all of the teams in the sport. As a result, the whole organisation is working extremely hard to ensure that we make as big, if not bigger, incremental improvement to the lap time performance of the MP4-22 versus any of our competitors. The drivers are visiting the McLaren Technology Centre, we are conducting a series of development reviews, working in the simulator, and generally pushing extremely hard to ensure at the Barcelona test next week we have a whole range of new componentry available for the MP4-22, and then looking further ahead at the race itself, optimising performance of these developments.
Q: How would you describe the performances of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton so far this season?
MW: Fernandos performance is inevitably judged on what has happened on the three Sunday afternoons we have had so far this season, which sees him as joint leader of the drivers championship. But the reality is his performance from a team perspective is also judged by how he contributes to the team, how he contributes to the technical development of the car, how he helps focus and motivate the organisation. He has been tremendously focused on working with the team and helping us to make improvements in what we do. Lewis by any standards has had a terrific start to the season and a great beginning to his Formula One career. For us it is not perhaps as surprising as it might be to others. Weve worked with Lewis for 11 years and we set out to ensure that he arrived in Formula One, not only in a competitive organisation, but also as prepared as possible.
Q: What has impressed you the most about Alonso and Hamilton?
MW: Whilst it is difficult to analytically quantify in the way that we seek to do with our engineering developments, there is no doubt that Fernando has made a very significant and worthwhile contribution to our programme. It is his honesty, clarity, sincerity. He happens to be an extremely nice human being, but one who is very focused and intent on winning races and world championships. It is the way that he goes about that, he quietly but insistently puts across his point of view, which has enormous credibility and credence within the team. With Lewis everyone is rightly proud of their achievements, but in reality the primary credit for what has occurred lies with Lewis, who has been very dedicated, focused and calm in the way in which he has approached his debut. In many ways probably his start in Malaysia, the way in which he dealt with the pressure from Felipe Massa at the beginning of the race and then resist great pressure from Kimi Raikkonen at the end was a particular highlight.
Q: Does the team enjoy having two drivers who are capable of fighting for the championship?
MW: Having competitive drivers in the team fighting for championships is motivational, but perhaps more significantly the two we have are such grounded individuals and such team players. Whilst they have enormous respect within the team, they also show respect for the engineers, technicians, mechanics and everyone involved, which means a lot to the whole team. It makes it more enjoyable when they achieve success.
Q: What are the expectations within the team for the coming races?
MW: Expectations are tainted by what others do, within the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team the targets are clear. We will improve the car prior to the Spanish Grand Prix and we hope that it is enough to win that race, which is obviously very important to Fernando. Monaco follows and is an unusual race, perhaps not indicative of the form throughout the season to the extent that Spain is but it is a prestigious event that both of our drivers enjoy and have been successful at. Winning Monaco is one of the favourite pastimes of McLaren drivers over the years with 13 wins on the streets of Monte Carlo. It is a Grand Prix that slipped through our fingers last year, and we hope that this year we can put that right. Fernando has proven how good he can be in Monaco. It is also a circuit that Lewis has won at in F3 and GP2 in very dominant fashion, so he has formed greater credentials there than some of the other circuits.
Q: What do you think the expectations of the team will be in the media?
MW: We have two drivers in the team who demand enormous media attention. Fernando is double world champion from a country that has become Formula One mad, primarily as a consequence of his exploits. He is therefore, to some extent, used to the hype and expectations of the media. The reality is he enjoys the support of the Spanish public and will enjoy the Spanish Grand Prix. Fernando feels that with the crowd behind him he can lift himself to even greater heights. We as an organisation have to make sure that whilst we are at the Circuit de Catalunya, we continue to focus on our job and minimise the distraction that arises. In the meanwhile it is a new phenomena for Lewis. He is receiving, as a new driver who has made a great start to his career, enormous attention in the British media. He again massively values the support he receives. This is something that we hopefully can help Lewis with as he grows acclimatised to it. We are sure that it wont negatively impact on Lewis, but we are keen to make sure that in the early stages of his career nothing occurs that detracts from his focus of getting the job done.
Q: What are the key areas of the MP4-22 that are being focused on in the development programme in the build-up to the Spanish Grand Prix?
MW: As always all Formula One teams see aerodynamic performance as a differentiator, and consequentially I am sure we will see new aero features and aspects of all of the cars when they arrive in Spain, including our own. Whilst that is going on, all the teams are able to secretly develop suspension and mechanicals that are better concealed and consequentially less talked about. We have conducted an analysis of our first three races, we have recognised that in Malaysia we had a strong package. Frankly in Bahrain, where there was heavy braking into relatively slow speed corners following straights, we were less strong. Whilst not being visually differentiating, we will undergo a lot of development work as we seek to make the car stronger. In reality every single car will have a range of strengths and weaknesses, and it is for each team to determine where is can best deploy its engineering efforts.