Whitmarsh: Hamilton and Button will be team players 08 Dec 2009
After guiding McLaren from the midfield back to winning ways in his first season as team principal, Martin Whitmarsh looks to have an even bigger challenge awaiting him for 2010. Not only will he face a works team fielded by long-term engine partners Mercedes, he will also have to keep two world champions happy. Some have questioned the wisdom of pairing Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, especially after the fireworks that ensued during Fernando Alonsos brief stay at the team, but Whitmarsh insists both men are old enough and wise enough to avoid any collateral damage, as he explained in an exclusive interview with Formula1.com
Q: Martin, after the Mercedes GP announcement, Ron Dennis said that both McLaren and Mercedes will still work closely together, but do you expect anything to change for 2010?
Martin Whitmarsh: For next year, youll see that, outwardly, very little will change at McLaren Mercedes. The team will still have the same name, the cars will still be the same colour and the vast majority of familiar faces will remain. Thats because, naturally, both Mercedes-Benz and ourselves have clear long-term objectives - and well still be completely involved for many years to come. It shouldnt be forgotten that Mercedes has been a partner of this team for 15 seasons and weve developed a very strong professional relationship as well as some very close personal ties over that length of time. We implicitly understand and trust the way that Mercedes goes racing - and I think that trust goes both ways - hence there was very little need for deliberation over our joint decision to remain in partnership for many seasons to come. Obviously, Mercedes-Benz will come to Formula One next year with its own team. We have a huge amount of respect for the management and engineers at Mercedes GP, and everybody at McLaren Mercedes wishes them well and will treat them as very serious competitors indeed.
Q: The announcement that youd signed reigning world champion Jenson Button came as a surprise to many. What made you look at Jenson, and how will the relationship work?
MW: At McLaren weve always been very direct in our approach to hiring drivers: weve always signed the two very best drivers available - and we make no concessions in that approach. Clearly, with Lewis already under contract, we were looking for a team mate who we felt could not only complement the job that Lewis is already doing but who would also be able to challenge individually for the world championship as well as bolstering our efforts to win the constructors title. Simply put, in Jenson we think we have the perfect package. Were incredibly positive about his arrival, we feel he will be a great addition to our team and in turn, we hope hell feel at home here and really fit in at McLaren.
Q: Daimler AG Boss Dr Dieter Zetsche was recently spotted at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Had the decision already been taken to form Mercedes GP, or were the talks at Abu Dhabi instrumental in the decision?
MW: Like I say, its a long-term strategy for both parties - and one that were both extremely satisfied with.
Q: You face the enviable prospect of looking after two British world champions under one roof - how do you expect that to work?
MW: My job will be to make sure that both Jenson and Lewis not only have the very best tools to do the job, but can also prosper and flourish in an environment that supports them both equally. Is that an additional challenge for the management in this team? Yes. Do we anticipate it providing us with an additional workload in order for us to successfully achieve equality for two very demanding racers? Inevitably, yes. Are we anticipating any difficulties or frustrations from either party? No - because were confident that we can build a team that will support both drivers equally. And, while were very proud to have the two British world champions onboard, were not billing this team as a British superteam - were proud to represent Great Britain, but weve always strongly supported drivers of other nationalities, and we simply picked the two best available drivers - who both happen to be British.
Q: Its a sizzling line-up. What do you anticipate your role will be in overseeing the drivers next year?
MW: As team principal, inevitably it will be my role to harness both drivers competitive instinct for productive means. Racing drivers by their nature are hugely competitive individuals - they want to win all the time. But I think Jenson and Lewis are mature enough and responsible enough to understand the bigger picture: we go racing as a team, and its the successes we achieve together that build the foundations for any assault on the world championship. I feel confident that youll see a very solid and responsible driver pairing next year.
Q: McLaren Mercedes will race in 2010 with two British drivers. Meanwhile, Mercedes GP could opt for an all-German line-up. Is Formula One racing now looking more closely at national teams?
MW: Our reasons for choosing two British drivers were based on issues of performance, not nationality. And Im sure those are the same criteria that Mercedes GP are looking at when they make their driver selection. Formula One is too big, and too international a sport for driver choice to be dominated by nationality. Of course, it can sometimes help, but Id like to think that weve never chosen drivers for their nationality, but solely because we believe they are the fastest.
Q: After your first season as team principal, how do you look back on 2009? Is the team different without Ron Dennis in charge?
MW: Looking back at my first season as team principal, I think the most important attribution of merit and praise ought to be directed towards our engineers, who quite simply performed miracles to turn around the fortunes of the MP4-24. And while I think everybody in this organisation is indebted to Ron for his leadership and visionary prowess, I also think its apparent that the team has started to acquire a slightly different style and personality over the last 12 months. Of course, there is still a huge amount of Ron in McLaren - and thats only natural and its hugely important and beneficial too - but the most important thing I want people to recognise is that the successes achieved by McLaren come from us being a team, not from any one individual.