Q&A with McLarens Martin Whitmarsh 28 Apr 2008
Following the Spanish Grand Prix, Martin Whitmarsh, McLarens Formula One CEO, talks about Lewis Hamiltons third-place finish and Heikki Kovalainens accident
Q: The Spanish Grand Prix has been something of an emotional roller-coaster for McLaren. The main thing, though, was that Heikki Kovalainen didnt suffer any serious injuries when he crashed at Turn Nine
Martin Whitmarsh: Absolutely. He has had a full head scan and there is no significant bruising or damage - thats extremely good news. Heikki was briefly unconscious but he was lucid soon after the accident and Im told he was actually quite jolly, which is fairly typical.
Q: What happened to cause such a dramatic accident?
MW: We think he suffered a wheel rim failure that caused his front-left tyre to deflate almost instantaneously. Its possible that some debris worked its way inside the rim, but we still have to analyse that. It was a new wheel and we dont think it was a structural failure. There were some score marks, but we dont know whether they were caused by debris or by his trip across the gravel trap. Weve got to answer that later.
Q: Turn Nine is a high-speed right-hander. What sort of forces were involved?
MW: It was a big accident. Cars brake from about 260km/h at that point on the circuit and he didnt scrub off a huge amount of speed before impact - he was still travelling pretty quickly when he hit the tyre wall and the impact lasted about 100 milliseconds, which might not sound much but 20-30 milliseconds would be more usual. His misfortune overshadowed the event, but people shouldnt overlook the quality of his performance. He had still to pit for fuel at the time of the accident and wasnt due to come in for a few more laps yet. That gives you some idea of the fuel load he was carrying during qualifying, when he did an absolutely fantastic lap.
Q: The car is presumably a write-off, but it stood up incredibly well
MW: It was destroyed, yes. The front of the chassis broke off. The chassis is wedge-shaped and we imagine it went in to the barriers until the point at which it snapped. A section of about 450-500mm broke off the front of the chassis, but everything worked as it was supposed to. The car absorbed a massive amount of energy, Heikki received no physical injuries and the circuit emergency staff and the FIA medical team at the track did an absolutely fantastic job in getting him out of the car safely and then looking after him thereafter.
Q: After a relatively fraught couple of weekends, Lewis Hamilton returned to the podium. How pleased were you with his performance?
MW: Lewis drove a great race. He took a very measured approach at the beginning, because we reasoned that Fernando Alonso, who was running just ahead of him, was possibly a little bit lighter on fuel. It would have been very easy for Lewis to chase down Fernando at that stage and damage his tyres, which might have prevented him from taking advantage of Fernandos earlier stop. In fact, Lewis did just the right job in holding back and doing minimal damage to his tyres, so as to be able to press on later, and that clearly put him in good shape. During the second and third stints he was as quick as the Ferraris and able to catch up, but trying to pass a rival car at the Circuit de Catalunya is another matter altogether.
Q: Most teams took a step forward in performance terms during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend. How do you assess the situation?
MW: The three quickest teams - ourselves, Ferrari and BMW Sauber - looked to be very closely matched; and Renault has taken a major step forwards, too. It looks good for the sport, but we have to build on our own solid performance. We know we have some more developments coming through and we have to make sure we get them as soon as we can. There will be some more new parts on the car in Turkey and we simply have to keep pushing.