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Jonathan Neale on McLaren’s engineering reshuffle 11 Jan 2010

Jonathan Neale (GBR) McLaren Managing Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Friday, 4 April 2008 Jenson Button at the McLaren Technology Centre, Woking, UK, 8 January 2010 © McLaren Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren walks the circuit with Phil Prew (GBR) McLaren Race Engineer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Preparations, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, 15 October 2009 Jonathan Neale (GBR) McLaren Managing Director 
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Brazilian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, 19 October 2007

After taking eight championships and 164 race victories since they first burst on to the Formula One scene in 1966, there’s very little left for McLaren to learn. But in 2010 the British team faces a tough challenge as they adjust to life in the sport’s new climate of ‘resource restriction’, which will see a dramatic reduction in trackside staff.

Ever-efficient McLaren, however, are determined not to get blindsided by the cost cuts, and have decided to reshuffle their engineering department accordingly. With Phil Prew stepping in to the role of principal race engineer, and Andy Latham and Jakob Andreason taking charge of race engineering for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button respectively, it’s clear a new period in McLaren’s history is well underway. Here McLaren Racing’s managing director, Jonathan Neale, reveals all…

Q: How are you preparing for Jenson Button’s arrival at McLaren?
Jonathan Neale:
When Jenson visited the McLaren Technology Centre, one of the questions he asked was, ‘Is this Lewis’s team?’ and the answer was ‘Yes, of course it’s Lewis’s team… as it was Heikki Kovalainen’s team, Fernando Alonso’s team, Juan Pablo Montoya’s, and Kimi Raikkonen’s. And it will be your team as well.’ Is this Lewis’s team to the exclusion of any other high-performance driver? Absolutely not. At Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, we love winning drivers - and we want to go about telling the world that story.

Q: So what prompted the reshuffle in race engineering?
JN:
Several reasons. Firstly, we felt it was the right time. Both our current race engineers, Phil Prew (Lewis Hamilton) and Mark Slade (Heikki Kovalainen), have been the team’s race engineers for more than 15 years. We’ve now got a number of very good people who are trained and ready to go - and we want to give them the platform from which they can make their experience and expertise really count. We also want to build an engineering team around Jenson, in exactly the same way we did with Lewis back in 2007. We want to create a strong group of individuals who can bring out the best in Jenson’s naturally smooth style. Additionally, we’re very keen to keep on developing our organisation. We’ve seen huge developments in aerodynamics, engineering and manufacturing throughout the team, and we are taking the reduction in trackside staff as an opportunity to strengthen race engineering. With the resource restriction agreement affecting the number of personnel we’ll bring to the races this year, we also saw this as an ideal opportunity to look at how the process works and to make some changes accordingly.

Q: When did the process start?
JN:
We’d been looking at it since the end of the season, but, naturally, weren’t making any decisions in race engineering until we’d finalised our driver line-up. Now that we have Jenson confirmed to drive alongside Lewis, we want to make absolutely sure we can do an equal job for both drivers. To help facilitate this, Phil Prew, who has been Lewis’s race engineer for the past few years, is going to take on a new role as the team’s principal race engineer. He’ll travel to every race and will manage the set-up, development, and sharing of data and information between both race engineering teams.

Q: With Prew taking on a new role, how will the race engineering team be reconfigured?
JN:
The race engineering team on Lewis’s car will be headed by Andy Latham, with Mark Temple as his performance engineer. On Jenson’s side, Jakob Andreason - a very experienced engineer who has worked alongside Phil on Lewis’s car for the last few years - will be the race engineer. Dave Robson, who’s also very experienced, will be Jenson’s performance engineer. We’re giving both drivers a fresh engineering team, with Phil as the bridge between them both.

Q: Does Prew’s role ensure greater parity between the drivers?
JN:
It does - but it’s primarily to ensure there’s total transfer in the learning of set-up development. It gives us a figurehead and a go-to person for the rest of the organisation across the race weekend, so they can ask Phil: ‘What’s happening with set-up? Which way are we going?’ We can also better use the simulation team and the engineers back at the McLaren Technology Centre to say to Phil: ‘You might want to try this', and Phil can supervise that flow of information.

Q: Does the reshuffle suggest there was a hole that needed filling in race engineering?
JN:
I think it’s more that the opportunity of a new driver, plus the rethinking required by the resource restriction agreement, comes at a very good time for us. It enabled us to ask ourselves: ‘How are we going to best do this?’