Q&A with McLarens Jonathan Neale 06 Oct 2010
The 2010 title battles are on a knife edge, with three teams and five drivers still very much in the running. McLarens managing director Jonathan Neale has seen it all before, and during a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session, it seems nothing can worry the Briton. He talks about Lewis Hamiltons retirement in Singapore, the championship fight and this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix
Q: Weve seen Hamilton make contact with a Ferrari and a Red Bull at the last two races. Whilst the other cars were able to continue, Hamilton retired. Is there a worry the strength of the car has been sacrificed for performance?
Jonathan Neale: No, I dont think we have a concern about the reliability or the durability of the car. It was unfortunate that that happened and Lewis has made contact. We are disappointed and Lewis is very disappointed. I think Lewis is a force of nature and given half an opportunity hes going to race hard. I think thats what makes him the man he is and why he is such a great racing driver, who is - and will be - successful. Hes the kind of driver who when he has the pace and you see him in your rear-view mirror, is going to have a go. I think that in Singapore, Lewis had got clear; he had the line and the grip to make it stick. And if Mark (Webber) hadnt made contact with him he would have got clear away. I dont see any fault or problem with that. Its motorsport and there is contact. Its in Lewiss instinct to play a percentage game. I do think though that he is a learning animal and he will take all of these things and weigh up the risks. Hes a great driver.
Q: Does he need a stronger car than some other drivers?
JN: No we dont design the car to be a Red Bull-torpedoing mid ship. Thats not a part of it. The fact is the wheel broke and the tyre deflated. He was going nowhere. Theres nothing fragile about the car. Weve had some pretty big contacts with walls and other cars. It is swings and roundabouts. Sometimes you get away with it, other times you dont.
Q: On the basis of Singapore, it would seem McLaren are the third force behind Red Bull and Ferrari. How do you see it?
JN: Well I dont see it like that. I do think that we knew, from our performance in Hungary, that wed have a bit of a challenge in Singapore. And, when we locked out the second row of the grid, we thought that was fantastic, as we were in a pretty strong position. Had Lewis been able to get his way round Mark and make it stick, I think wed be sitting round talking about a very different race. With one win in it, theres all to play for. The fact is we split the Ferraris and the Red Bulls (in Singapore). The remaining four races are circuits at which we should be very competitive. Ferrari and Red Bull will be pushing hard, and we will be doing the same. Lets see if we can win some of these races.
Q: The team are pushing hard towards Abu Dhabi. Is there a concern the focus on 2010 could cost the team in 2011?
JN: Its not something that were worried about - weve done it before. We have been fighting for championships before and had to run with it. Its a thing for everyone else too. We are pushing very hard, but we have also put resource on to next years car. Its a delicate balance. Formula One is never limited by ideas, theres only the number of daylight hours and the number of people that youve got. So at this stage Im not concerned about this year having a detrimental impact on next year. It does mean we have a very busy winter ahead of us.
Q: At the end of the Singapore Grand Prix, Button referred to an upgrade that had to be taken off the car after practice, but he said it would be back in Japan and should make a big difference. Will it be back, can you confirm what it is and will it make a big difference?
JN: I certainly hope all the upgrades will make a big difference. We are taking a reasonably big upgrade to Japan. We have got a front-wing upgrade, a new rear wing and there are some aerodynamic details around the floor. We have a big package for Friday, but I think well be in a better position (after that) to say what we are actually going to run in anger. Were certainly taking everything we took to Singapore - and more - to Japan.
Q: Now that Hamilton has to make up some ground in the championship, rather than defending a lead, will anything change in terms of your strategy? Will you take more risks?
JN: Not consciously. If there is any more risk, it will be at the factory end. We know we have two world champions here. Both of them know how to race really hard. We have to make sure we take the workload of them to allow them to focus on the race itself. There will be no change in strategy. Therell be no sense of lift and coast or Banzai. Well go out to win each race, so no change in strategy.
Q: Do you believe the world titles are still in your hands?
JN: I dont think its ever in your hands - I dont think any team would say that. Everyone will have a view. Ive spoken to a number of people here this week. Some think that Fernando (Alonso) has got the momentum; some think Mark is calm enough to see this thing through, others think Lewis or Jenson can do it. I think all we can do is shift the odds in our favour by working tirelessly to make sure the car is bullet-proof reliable, and the drivers dont make mistakes and hold their nerve. Its a tough one at the moment and it could go any way. Its tough to call.
Q: Aside from Hamiltons bad luck, were you pleased with the upgrades in Singapore? Were they doing what youd hoped?
JN: They were. The last time we were on a circuit with similar characteristics, we found ourselves 1.7-1.8 seconds off the pace. The safety car made us run longer on the option tyres than we would have liked and we certainly saw a high degradation on those, which was anomalous compared to the rest of the field. But in the analysis afterwards we understood what that was. Im not sure well see the super-soft options for the rest of the season. The tyres we have, and the circuit characteristics of the races left, are ones which we feel confident about.
Q: You talked about upgrades. Will you take a gamble and throw them all out at once?
JN: We are throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it. So we will be pushing very hard. If we can push a modification forward - even if we have only limited components - wed rather the drivers had them than wait until we had a comfortable set of spares. We are running on the very lean edge of what weve got.
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