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Q&A with McLaren's Philip Prew 20 Oct 2010

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 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/25.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, 10 October 2010 The podium (L to R): Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing, Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren, Phil Prew (GBR) McLaren Race Engineer and Robert Kubica (POL) Renault. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 29 August 2010 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/25 makes a pit stop. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Sunday, 26 September 2010 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/25. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monza, Italy, Friday, 10 September 2010

Both Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton remain in the hunt for the 2010 drivers’ crown, and McLaren are still Red Bull’s biggest threat in the constructors’ stakes. But after a difficult few rounds, the mountain the team needs to climb seems to be getting steeper by the race. That won’t stop them trying of course. They have more updates for Korea this weekend, and principal race engineer Philip Prew believes the Yeongam circuit won’t favour any of the three leading teams over their rivals. He explained more in a pre-race Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session…

Q: Everyone’s entering into the unknown with this track at Korea this weekend. Is it now or never, or are you happy to get a good result this weekend and hope the Red Bulls and Alonso have problems?
Philip Prew:
I think our target this weekend is very much to get on the podium. In fact we need to be in front of Webber. We need two cars at the front, competing for the front row of the grid in qualifying, and then delivering a race result on the podium. That’s the target.

Q: Jenson has already spoken about how different things feel for him this season, albeit with a different team. He was leading from the front last season and it was up to the others to try and catch him. It’s the other way round for him and Lewis this time. Is that how you are looking at it? You’ve got to be ready to pounce, but it’s Red Bull’s and Alonso’s title to lose effectively…
PP:
It’s always difficult as you close in on the end of the season. I personally have been in the position in 2007 where we gave away an awful lot of points in two races, effectively 42 points with Lewis to lose the championship. Defending a lead does give you added pressure and possibly forces you or leads you to change your approach slightly. As you say, for McLaren at the moment it’s a very clear objective - we’ve got to be winning races, we’ve got to have strong performances from both drivers and then we’ll see how it pans out over the next three races.

Q: Can you give us an update on the developments this weekend and will you definitely be running the new rear wing?
PP:
We will certainly be running it on Friday. We also have a new front wing. They are the two big updates that will be visible on the car. In addition to that we have some smaller mechanical updates, all aiming to add to performance. We will certainly be running the new rear wing on Friday and continuing the investigations that were cut short a little bit in Suzuka. Our understanding (of it) has improved and we are optimistic we can make it work here.

Q: Did you manage to make much progress with the new parts in Suzuka or was there just not the chance due to a lack of track time?
PP:
As I say, our understanding and our knowledge of how it was all going to work with the car, and interaction with the rest of the car, we gained some knowledge there, but really we ran out of time in Suzuka to gain the confidence that it was a robust enough solution to take racing. A good clear session on Friday here will give us a lot more track time and we are optimistic that we can work through a programme to give us that confidence. Obviously our desire and hope is that we can race that with confidence and gain the performance out of it that we think there is available.

Q: There’s been a lot of talk about the Korean track surface and obviously it was only laid in the last couple of weeks. Hermann Tilke has said he thinks there could be a lot of guesswork this weekend in terms of predicting how the surface will evolve. What’s your take on that and how will you be managing that as a team?
PP:
I actually walked the circuit this morning with the other engineers and I have to say I was very impressed with what I saw. The track itself and all the kerbs and run-offs and those sort of things all looked pretty good. The track surface itself, yes it has been recently laid, it is a bit of an unknown. I don’t think it looked too bad in terms of it wasn’t particularly greasy underfoot and it looked, from what you can tell, smooth and well laid and consistent all the way around the circuit. In terms of how it develops and how the tyres interact with it, it is going to be guesswork. It’s going to evolve very quickly through the first session and then I think we can expect it to improve all the way through qualifying and then the race. For ourselves that means we have to be careful about what set-up work we do and when we do the set-up work because a result could be influenced more by track evolution than necessarily the changes we make to the car. Equally in qualifying you need to be prepared that the track could be improving quickly and therefore a lap time set at the beginning of Q1 may not necessarily be sufficient by the time you get to the end of Q1. And even in Q3 I think the desire to do your laps right at the end will be there. So I think track evolution will be the big player and we just have to do what we always do which is adapt the car to the conditions that we find. The fact is the conditions might change more quickly than normal here, but it’s what the guys do and what the drivers are used to doing.

Q: Looking at the track layout, and having had some time on the simulator and having gone there today, do you think it’s a layout that will suit the McLaren compared to its rivals?
PP:
To be honest it’s a very good combination of quite a few different sorts of circuits. Obviously it has some long straights with big stops, which is not dissimilar to Canada, which I think will favour our car. Sector two is a bit more like Turkey, where we performed quite well. And then you come to the last sector, typically a high-downforce sector, a bit more like Hungary perhaps. So if I had to say which car it favoured, I would say it’s actually quite a neutral circuit and there’s aspects of it which will favour every one of the top teams. It just depends whether we can gain enough on the long straights and in the high-speed sectors to compensate for the strengths perhaps of the Red Bull in some of the flowing and long corners towards the end of the circuit. There are certainly areas where we will excel and some areas where I think the Red Bull will be very strong. I don’t think any of the top-three cars will have it all their own way.

Q: How important will it be to get on the front of the grid, because overtaking looks possible, so could you still be confident if you qualified behind the two Red Bulls for example?
PP:
Yes I would. I think we’ve had some very good launch performance over recent races, which would put us in good stead going into the first corner, then on a timed lap there’s three good straights, which actually give you an opportunity to catch up and then another opportunity to overtake, so in that aspect I think there’s some very good overtaking opportunities here, not just because of the braking points to make the overtaking, but the opportunity to gain on the first two straights and perhaps make the overtaking manoeuvre into Turn 4 for example. I think we have strengths in that area on our car and I think the opening laps could be very interesting, even if we’re behind.

Q: At the moment you’ve got both Jenson and Lewis going for the title, the first time you’ve had both drivers in there since 2007. How have you applied the experiences from three years ago to how you are operating things this year?
PP:
I think where we are at the moment in terms of chasing other people , then we need strong results from both drivers and we have to attack with both drivers. If we can get both of them to challenge for the title and overtake the Red Bulls then maybe that’s another problem, but at this stage of the game both drivers need to be taking points off our immediate opposition and the only way to do that is to let them drive their own race as much as they can.

Q: Knowing what difficulty that can present within a team, do you think that’s something that could trip Red Bull up?
PP:
They have a different problem to us, yes. I don’t know whether it will trip them up. They have their own policies and it appears from the outside that both drivers are having an equal opportunity.

Q: We’ve seen Jenson take some different decisions on strategy in the last couple of races. Does he think that’s the best chance he has to beat the Red Bulls, by doing something different and taking a gamble?
PP:
All of the decisions are based on the performance that he feels is in the car and how he can best exploit the performance. They are aimed at getting best performance. His driving style is slightly different from Lewis’ and his decisions are in line with those differences I think. I don’t think it’s deliberately going out of the way, it’s more about being prepared to take some risks if that’s necessary. It’s really ultimately going for the best lap time and if that’s different to other people then we’re prepared to take those.

Q: Given what we know of the circuit this weekend, it looks like there’s perhaps quite a bit of scope for someone to do something different and take a bit of a gamble to get a win?
PP:
Potentially. I think some of that will come from as we see the track evolve, if the grip is a big issue. An example may be if the track grip is poor, then the higher downforce solution may work, but if somebody who’s a little bit brave may choose to take a lower downforce level, expecting the grip level to improve through the race, and then they might be in a strong position in the race to have overtaking opportunities etc. So there could be some opportunities to try slightly different routes but we need to gauge the conditions and what opportunities there are, and then try and do the best thing.

Q: Are Lewis and Jenson still fully motivated, despite the setbacks in the last few races?
PP:
Absolutely. I feel we've under-delivered points in the last couple of races, which is a frustration to the drivers and the team. But they know that the car has the pace and the potential to be competing, and finishing higher up than we've achieved recently. They both want to win races and they both want to win this championship, and to do that we have to be winning. It's at a stage now where a win is what's required and that's what we're gunning for. We have continual upgrades to the car, which helps to motivate everybody. They're plenty motivated at the moment.

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