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Q&A with McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh 12 May 2008

(L to R): Phil Prew (GBR) McLaren Race Engineer with Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren and Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) McLaren Chief Executive Officer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Turkish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Friday, 9 May 2008 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/23.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Turkish Grand Prix, Race, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Sunday, 11 May 2008 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren MP4/23.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Turkish Grand Prix, Race, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Sunday, 11 May 2008 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren celebrates 2nd place.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Turkish Grand Prix, Race, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Sunday, 11 May 2008 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren celebrates his second position on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Turkish Grand Prix, Race, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Sunday, 11 May 2008

Following Sunday's Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul Park, Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren’s Formula One CEO, discusses how the weekend unfolded for team mates Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen...

Q: McLaren might not have won the Turkish Grand Prix, but it was a very positive weekend in many ways. Let’s start with Lewis Hamilton’s second place and his unusual three-stop strategy. Talk us through that.
Martin Whitmarsh:
It was a decision we took on Saturday, before the third free practice session. We had concerns about tyre durability, although obviously we didn’t advertise the fact. It affected Lewis in particular and we took a number of preventative measures. We increased tyre pressures on Saturday morning, but although that addressed the problem to a degree it didn’t so do sufficiently to give us the margin we needed.

Q: What particular aspects of Istanbul Park prompted Lewis’s tyre problems?
MW:
The simple answer is Turn Eight. We’re very strong in high-speed corners and our chassis generates a lot of front-end grip. Last year we had a chunking problem with the tyre, this time it was sidewall delamination. We’re generating high vertical loads through those corners and that’s the problem. Bridgestone acknowledged as much, but they are good, strong partners and we’ll continue to work with them to make sure we don’t have any recurrence.

Q: Heikki was theoretically able to run a two-stop strategy. Are there marked differences between his driving style and Lewis’s?
MW:
They run a slightly different set-up that puts a little bit more load on Lewis’s front tyres. He was reasonably aggressive through Turn Eight and very quick, but he changed his style and racing line on Saturday. But on a circuit like this, once you see there’s a tyre concern you have to put safety first. We took a decision and it was the right thing to do with the information we had available at the time.

Q: Lewis claims this was the finest performance of his F1 career to date…
MW:
My memory’s so short that I don’t want to draw comparisons! It was his finest race this year and he did it with the odds stacked against him. He was just flat out and really took the race to Ferrari.

Q: With a better qualifying lap, Lewis might have started from pole with a three-stop fuel load. Might the race have been winnable from there?
MW:
In a simple time trial, the difference between two stops and three is about five seconds over a full race distance. In reality, though, it’s more than that because you don’t always have the most co-operative of traffic. It was clearly a disadvantage to three-stop, otherwise it would have been a more fashionable strategy, so it would have been difficult to win even from pole. Given the way Lewis performed, though, he might just have done it.

Q: Given the extra fuel he was carrying, Heikki’s front-row qualifying performance looks even better with the benefit of hindsight.
MW:
I think both our drivers did a fantastic job but, from a strategic point of view, Heikki was in the strongest position to win this race. I think he would have won had he not banged wheels with Kimi Raikkonen at the start - that was just a racing incident, and nobody’s fault, but the consequent puncture caused an extra stop. He was due to run longer than Felipe (Massa) in the first stint and if he was close to him, which I think he could have been, he would have been able to pass him and the race would have played out differently. It’s easy to say that in hindsight, but I think Heikki did a fantastic job in qualifying but was unable to exploit it in the race.

Q: It was a particularly striking performance, given the accident he suffered in Spain a fortnight ago.
MW:
He’s an extraordinary chap. I’ve never known him as disappointed as this, though. He really felt he could win this race - and it eluded him. I’ve told him that I think he’s absolutely right to be disappointed, but that’s a by-product of the great job he did to put himself in that position. He deserves to win races this year and he will.

Q: Did you alter Heikki’s strategy at all when he made his unscheduled stop?
MW:
We put a very small splash of fuel in, but we couldn’t run long stints with either car because of our tyre concerns. We were three-stopping with Lewis and didn’t have enough margin with Heikki. In that situation, we’d ordinarily have switched to a one-stop with Heikki but we couldn’t do that. Our safe range going into the race was circa 20-21 laps.

Q: Monaco is next - and that has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for the team.
MW:
It has, the team has a great history there and we are naturally looking to add to that this year. I think we’ll be competitive and it’s a circuit both our drivers like.

Q: Sum up the past weekend in a single line.
MW:
The really positive thing is that we come away knowing we could have beaten Ferrari.