Singapore debrief with McLarens Martin Whitmarsh 30 Sep 2008
Lewis Hamiltons third-place finish at the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix saw McLaren reclaim the lead in the constructors championship from rivals Ferrari. Here, the teams Formula One CEO, Martin Whitmarsh, reflects on the Singapore event, and looks ahead to the final three races of the season
Q: Despite the lengthy preparations beforehand, were there any aspects of the Singapore Grand Prix weekend that caught the team unawares?
Martin Whitmarsh: The bumps were a factor that caught everybody by surprise. Before we arrived in Singapore for the race weekend, we sent people there to do an accurate survey of the track surface for use in our pre-race engineering work. Inevitably, with a new circuit, the track surface evolves and the asphalt settles - a factor that we either didnt measure or that developed after we'd done our survey. So that was the most unexpected element of the weekend. We also need to look more closely at the pit-lane exit and entrance. I think the race organisers will probably have to extend the entrance and exit for next year, moving them further away from the apices of corners. I'm sure that will be changed.
Q: Were you satisfied with the approach taken to the drivers schedule?
MW: Yes, it worked amazingly well. Both drivers were incredibly dedicated - and the team that set their schedule up, led by Aki Hintsa, put a lot of work into it. But it was quite a bizarre experience: I went back to the hotel after the sessions, had something to eat and then sat with our drivers until four in the morning. You left them to go to bed and they would be putting on a movie - it was quite a strange feeling, but it worked very well.
Q: What were your overall impressions of Formula One racing's inaugural night race?
MW: In terms of ambience, facility and backdrop it was just fantastic. Clearly, this has been a learning year and the organisers will have spent a lot of time overcoming the unique difficulties of attempting to put a racetrack into a metropolis. But weve seen Monaco evolve over many years and I can see the Singapore Grand Prix becoming our 'Monaco of the East'. The commitment of the Singaporean Government and the race organisers has created an enormous amount of goodwill and that will only be reflected by the teams, who will really want to make this venue work.
Q: Could the team have realistically achieved more than third and 10th positions on Sunday evening?
MW: The deployment of the safety car just ahead of the first pit stops inevitably hurts the regular two-stopping teams more than the others, but we feel that we dealt with the situation well. We asked both Lewis and Heikki (Kovalainen) to adopt a fuel-saving strategy in order to minimise the risk of needing to refuel under the safety car, and then we 'stacked' both cars and dealt with them efficiently once the pit lane was opened. It was unfortunate that Heikki was forced to queue, because it meant he would be fighting among the traffic for the remainder of the race. He was also affected by brake problems towards the end of the race and was therefore forced to slow his pace. With Lewis, the fact is that when youre fighting for a world championship, youre necessarily more risk-averse than those teams who feel more comfortable pushing for a strong result. And while we take nothing away from the efforts of Renault and Williams, our evenings work was tinted by the knowledge that neither Ferrari driver looked like scoring strongly. Wed have looked pretty silly if wed thrown Lewiss points finish away by telling him to push like mad. The reality is that we played the numbers game perfectly on Sunday evening and were beaten by two cars which, for one reason or another, were able to exploit different variables than ourselves.
Q: Would you say Lewis was disadvantaged by the arrival of that first safety car?
MW: The current safety car deployment rule can cause some drivers to be disadvantaged relative to some of their rivals, yes. To that extent, it's a bit of a lottery, but its one of those variables that tends to even-out over the course of a season: sometimes you benefit from the safety car's deployment, other times you dont. What made the situation a bit more unfortunate for Lewis in Singapore was the time taken for the stop-go penalties to be applied to those drivers who had refuelled under the safety car. Nico (Rosberg) was able to get the hammer down out in front while the stewards were coming to their decision - which effectively neutered his eventual stop-go penalty. With hindsight, I guess we could have brought Lewis in for fuel and tyres at the same time as Williams brought Nico in. And had we done so, Lewis would very possibly have won the race. But, in truth, you cant second-guess things like that, and we brought Lewis in as soon as the rules allowed, in good faith. Also, to be fair to the stewards, they had a lot to think about at the time.
Q: The team brought a large number of improvements to the car for this race; what have you got planned for the final three flyaway races?
MW: Ordinarily, the Singapore weekend would have been our last big upgrade package of the season. But weve now got an upgrade package focused on Brazil and will be looking to see whether we can pull any of those improvements forwards. There will still be little bits and pieces brought to the car for the two Asian races (Japan and China) but the package of upgrades wont be as big as the one we brought to Singapore.