Q&A with McLarens Martin Whitmarsh 09 Jun 2008
After Lewis Hamiltons stunning pole position, McLaren had high hopes of victory in Canada. But following the British drivers much-publicised pit-lane error and a difficult race for Heikki Kovalainen, they left Montreal without a point. Hamiltons 10-place grid penalty will make things tough at the next round in France too, but McLarens Formula One CEO Martin Whitmarsh is looking on the bright side
Q: A disappointing result, but what positives do you take away from your Canadian Grand Prix weekend?
Martin Whitmarsh: Despite the result, there are still positive signs to draw from the weekend. Lewis's qualifying lap was obviously a highlight and a fantastic performance from him. The overall pace of the car at the beginning of the race was also very impressive. We had good top-speed at Montreal, which was important given that we'd worked hard to improve that.
Q: Why was Lewis jumped by Robert Kubica and Kimi Raikkonen at that first pitstop?
MW: Along with a number of other teams, we took a decision to come in under the Safety Car as soon as the pit lane was opened. We felt that was the right decision and fuelled Lewis long enough to enable him to run longer than the other cars because we felt we had the pace to be able to stay with them. During the stop itself, there was a bit of a hesitation, which didn't help. But overall, I don't think the stop was too bad given the amount of fuel we put into the car. If we'd got out in front we would have been in a very strong position; if we'd come out behind - by virtue of having a longer fuel-load, we'd still have had the ability to hopefully have come through at the second stop.
Q: What went wrong at the pit-exit?
MW: Clearly, with the overwhelming majority of the cars pitting at the same time, the pit lane was unusually congested. As a result, Lewis not only had to monitor the two cars ahead of him but also keep an eye on the red lights at the pit exit. We all saw what happened next - and that's racing. You have to feel sorry for Kimi and Ferrari, who were the innocent victims on this occasion.
Q: Did you consider protesting Lewis's penalty?
MW: Absolutely not. We regard the stewards' decision as hard but fair. Hard in the sense that it clearly makes Lewis's task more difficult in Magny-Cours, but fair on the grounds that we have no argument with their contention that he did cause an avoidable accident. Sometimes severe consequences can be the results of split-second misjudgements. And, in this instance, we'll take the loss of a likely win and the 10-place grid penalty squarely on the chin.
Q: How will you refine Lewis's French Grand Prix race-plan in light of the 10-place grid penalty?
MW: We're going into France with a 10-place penalty for Lewis so that will clearly affect our approach. Without giving too much away, I suspect he'll run a little bit longer in the first stint than would otherwise have been the case. We haven't modelled it yet, but intuitively that's what we'll probably do.
Q: How did Heikki fare during the race?
MW: This weekend didn't quite come together for him. Maybe it was the way we set the car up or the pressure he put himself under, but he was graining tyres and was not really able to get the job done in the race. As often happens when you don't quite find the sweet spot, you can push the tyres into graining - and that's what happened towards the end of the race.
Q: How should Heikki approach the next few races?
MW: The reality is that, in every race he's done for us so far, Heikki has done a fantastic job and if you look at fuel-corrected times, he's frequently out-qualified Lewis. This weekend, for whatever reason, he didn't quite get on it. We know he puts a lot of pressure on himself but, as a team, we very much believe in him and think he's robust enough in his approach that he'll recover in time. In reality, he's the guy who is our best hope of winning the French Grand Prix.
Q: What will be tested at Barcelona this week ahead of the French Grand Prix?
MW: Over the last two races, we've seen a number of aerodynamic components on the car. We've had 12 performance upgrades for Canada - 10 aero and two mechanical - and the reality is the last two races have been fairly unusual in their characteristics, possessing very high or relatively low-downforce settings. Now we're back to a more average aerodynamic set-up, we've got a number of things which will hopefully prove out and be successful in the test.
Q: Can the team maintain the sort of pace it achieved in Monaco and Montreal once the circus travels to France and Silverstone?
MW: Yes, I think so. We're continuing to push and develop the car. At this point last year, the characteristics of our car meant Ferrari were kinder to the tyres in the race and had better high-speed corner performance than us. This year, we've had better high-speed performance and we're going into two circuits - Magny-Cours and Silverstone - which should suit us. I'm sure Ferrari will keep pushing and BMW Sauber are proving to be remarkably consistent. Their consistency is being rewarded at the moment. We need to ensure we don't make too many mistakes and continue to develop the car faster than both of those teams.