Hungary debrief with McLarens Martin Whitmarsh 05 Aug 2008
Following Heikki Kovalainens maiden victory during Sundays Hungarian Grand Prix, Martin Whitmarsh, McLarens Formula One CEO, discusses how the weekend unfolded and looks ahead to the forthcoming European event
Q: Youve seen young drivers take their first wins for McLaren before - what will Sundays result mean for Heikki?
Martin Whitmarsh: We have a strong Finnish tradition in the team, and Ive seen both Mika (Hakkinen) and Kimi (Raikkonen) take their first grand prix wins while driving for McLaren. With Lewis (Hamilton), too, that maiden victory firstly stands as a validation of their skill and only really underlines what we at McLaren have always believed about our drivers: we hire them because we believe them all to be winners, and once we can provide them with the equipment to do that, it is clearly only a matter of time before they start winning, and winning regularly. With Heikki, Sundays result was fully justified and very much deserved: hes had his fair share of bad luck during the early part of the season and his win in Hungary showed that hed let none of that misfortune pile up on his shoulders. Hes as committed as ever and fully focused on winning for the team. And weve seen with all our other drivers that once they get that winning feeling, its something they want to keep doing. And none of us in the team are left in any doubt that Heikki is a superb racing driver and this result will only strengthen his ambition in the second half of the year. Im fully confident that Heikki will win another grand prix before the end of the season and we fully aim to provide him with the equipment to do so. Clearly, we are targeting Ferrari in the constructors championship and it will only be to our benefit to have both our drivers pushing as hard as possible to close down that points gap.
Q: Were you surprised that Ferrari seemed to be able to switch on their pace on Sunday? Apart from the tyre issue, what problems affected Lewis during the race?
MW: Clearly, Felipe (Massa) was strong in Budapest, particularly in the early part of the race and we come away from Hungary with a clear intention of understanding where that perceived uplift of performance came from. But the reality is that Lewiss pace behind Felipe during the first stint was very respectable - he was able to peg him to around the three-second mark until the first pitstops - and we werent unduly concerned about the Ferraris pace. In our second stint, I think we started to turn our fortunes around: we pitted later than Felipe, fuelled Lewis significantly longer than the Ferrari and had a performance advantage, despite the heavier fuel-load. We felt confident that we would have been in a significantly stronger position going into the last stint but, unfortunately, Lewiss tyre problem not only forced him to complete the best part of a lap on a flat tyre, he suffered the failure at Turn One and the tyre was flat by Turn Two, but also caused him to pit earlier than anticipated. This not only negated the fuel advantage he was originally carrying but forced him to look after his super-soft tyres over a far longer stint than we had originally anticipated. That he managed to do that so effortlessly is a great testament to his presence of mind, and his fifth position, during an afternoon of damage-limitation, was a truly impressive result.
Q: What benefits have the nosebox winglets brought to the MP4-23?
MW: The reality is that you cant isolate the advantages that a singular piece of aerodynamic componentry brings to the cars performance. While much has been made of the nosebox winglets we ran in testing in Jerez and at the Hungarian Grand Prix, the reality is that they work in harmony with the whole car to increase downforce and improve balance. Its a testament not just to our design and windtunnel teams, but also to our model-making and manufacturing departments that we have been able to bring so many new items like these to recent races. And our aggressive development strategy shows no sign of slowing down. This is where the world championship will be won or lost, weve seen it happen before.
Q: What developments are planned during the summer break and what will we see on the car in Valencia?
MW: We are undertaking two 50 kilometre shakedown tests ahead of Valencia. Were also continually developing new parts for the car. As our simulation and development departments continue to produce new parts, well take a view as to whether theyll be raced. We wont disclose what they are but Im sure youll see some new components appear during Friday testing at the next race.
Q: A number of teams have recently introduced shark fin dorsal wings - what is the state of development with the McLaren dorsal?
MW: We tested the engine cover dorsal fin during the pre-German Grand Prix test at Hockenheim. Its intended aim was to improve the cars sensitivity during yaw, but we found that some of the advantage it brought to that area was being offset elsewhere. As you can clearly see, it is a large structure and one that is particularly sensitive to crosswinds. We felt that our car already delivers sufficiently in yaw and that continuing to experiment with the dorsal fin might not bring us the sufficient performance benefit wed require to make it worthwhile. As such, it is not something we are giving priority to at the moment.
Q: Looking ahead to the European Grand Prix, what sort of preparation is the team doing ahead of this new race?
MW: Weve been paying very close attention to the construction of the new shorefront circuit in Valencia and are convinced it is going to be an exciting addition to the Formula One calendar and an absolutely top-line facility. There are a number of things we as a team can do ahead of arriving at any new circuit. In this instance, we have had people visiting Valencia regularly to collect data about the track surface, kerb heights and run-off areas so we can build up as clear a picture as possible of the demands that will be placed on a Formula One racing car during the European Grand Prix. And weve left no stone unturned, weve even been studying onboard racing footage of the circuit to get an idea of where the overtaking opportunities lie. Unlike most street circuits, however, Valencia is unusual in that it is relatively high-speed track and will require a much lower downforce set-up than wed normally see at a place like Monte-Carlo, for example. We are anticipating a fascinating engineering challenge and, while theres always an element of uncertainty whenever you arrive at a new facility, were confident weve done as competent a job as we can of preparing for it.