Hockenheim debrief with McLarens Martin Whitmarsh 23 Jul 2008
Following Sunday's German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, Martin Whitmarsh, McLarens Formula One CEO, discusses how the weekend unfolded for team mates Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen...
Q: The team was penalised by the stewards for an incident that occurred during qualifying on Saturday afternoon. Can you explain what happened?
Martin Whitmarsh: During a busy qualifying session, if you want to accurately deliver a small amount of fuel to the car, it is easier to use a small churn of fuel rather than connecting the regular race refuelling rig. Article 29.2 of the 2008 Sporting Regulations states that a driver may remain in his car throughout refuelling but, unless an FIA-approved race refuelling system is used, the engine must be stopped. We refuelled Heikkis car during the Q2 session using a churn while his engine was still running but we reasoned - incorrectly, as it happened - that we were operating within the regulations because we were using an approved Intertechnique [the FIA-approved supplier of refuelling equipment to all F1 teams] nozzle to deliver the fuel. Having discussed the matter with the stewards, we accepted that we were in breach of the Sporting Regulations. Clearly, though, we received no performance advantage from doing this and accepted the stewards judgment as totally fair.
Q: On Sunday afternoon, the team admitted it made a strategic error in keeping Hamilton out during the safety car period - but what was your rationale for doing that in the heat of the moment?
MW: Generally speaking, when you are leading a grand prix and showing good pace, you are more risk-averse than those behind you. The first stint of the race clearly showed we had an inherent performance advantage over the rest of the field - so much so, in fact, that we felt comfortable about bringing Lewis in early for his first pitstop and fuelling him long for his second stint. When the safety car was deployed, we evaluated the options and felt that keeping Lewis out and running low-fuel on a clear track outweighed the potential difficulties of pitting him; which could have dropped him down the pack and would also have penalised Heikki, who would have been forced to queue in the pit lane behind Lewis. We were also affected by a number of contributing factors that we couldnt have foreseen when we made the call. Firstly, the safety car stayed out for longer than we had anticipated, which meant the number of laps available for Lewis to pull out an advantage was reduced. Secondly, more cars pitted than we expected - this meant there was less traffic between Lewis and Felipe (Massa) after the safety car came in. Finally, we felt Lewis would have an advantage running on low-fuel with used tyres; in fact, the track evolution shifted to give greater benefit to cars fuelled heavily. That made his job harder.
Q: Is there now a need to re-evaluate how McLaren makes these strategic decisions?
MW: If youre a leading team and you get it wrong then youre going to face criticism. But hindsight is always 20:20 and we feel we made the right decisions based on the tough choices available to us. Dont forget, too, that it was less clear-cut for Lewis because we had fuelled him longer than the other cars at his first pit stop. We had a bigger fuel window than the other teams, who were much closer to their second pit stop when the safety car was deployed. Therefore, it was a much easier call for them than it was for us. And Im sure the decision for Ferrari was far more straightforward: they probably werent going to beat us. And if the tables had been turned, wed doubtless have faced criticism if Massa had stayed out, jumped us and then capitalised on his advantage with a late splash-and-dash to the finish. But lets not forget that Nick Heidfeld made the strategy work, staying out under the safety car and finishing fourth -so the strategy remained a valid one.
Q: The team recently announced that team manager Dave Ryan has been appointed sporting director - will his duties now change?
MW: Given his stature within the team, and the commitment he shows to his role, we thought the new title of sporting director best reflected the progressive evolution of Daveys responsibilities within McLaren. Dave has been hugely committed to this team, he joined McLaren in 1974 - and has played a central role in developing the race team into what it is today. We all appreciate Daveys contribution: hes loyal, forthright and fearlessly hard working. In fact, hes pivotal to the way we go racing each weekend and thoroughly deserves to take on this broader role. But while his duties expand, he still remains our conduit to the wider world of F1 and will continue to attend the regular team managers meetings.
Q: There has been some confusion about the way Hamilton passed Kovalainen in the closing stages of the race - can you clarify exactly what happened?
MW: The reality in that particular situation was that Lewis was quicker than Heikki on the day. When Lewis came up behind him, Heikki was sporting enough to move over - even though it must have been an incredibly difficult decision for him to make in the cockpit. Were grateful for Heikki for showing the strength of character and sportsmanship to make that sacrifice - were all aware how tough it must have been.