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Q&A with McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh 03 Nov 2010

(L to R): Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) McLaren Chief Executive Officer with Stefano Domenicali (ITA) Ferrari General Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 9 October 2010 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/25.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 29 August 2010 Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) McLaren Chief Executive Officer in the FIA Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Friday, 27 August 2010 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/25 and Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F10 battle.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Korean Grand Prix, Race, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday, 24 October 2010 (L to R): Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren with team mate Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Valencia Spain, Saturday, 26 June 2010

McLaren head to this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix as the outsiders in both championships. Strong results - plus poor ones for their rivals - will be needed to keep Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in contention. As always, though, the men from Woking are up for the fight, as team principal Martin Whitmarsh explained in a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-In…

Q: In Korea you were at the front all weekend until Q3, but were then unable to fight for pole, leaving Jenson and Lewis a bit baffled. Have you pinpointed why this happened, and do you expect to be back on the pace in qualifying in Brazil, or do you think you will have to try and outwit your rivals from behind in the race?
Martin Whitmarsh:
In Korea we were on the pace through practice one, practice two, practice three - I think we were first, third and second through those - and we were competitive through Q1 and Q2. It was very close, and I'm sure that we've all got different forms of qualifying mode, and times when we exploit those qualifying modes. It was tight, but we didn't quite get the performance. I think in Jenson's case, we didn't give him a car that he was comfortable with throughout qualifying, so he did a good job just to get it up there anyway. I don’t really know (the reasons), but certainly Red Bull found extra pace in Q3 relatively to practically everyone.

We're bringing developments to Brazil, we're pushing hard and we have a range of tests that we will perform on Friday before we finalise the spec of the car to be used on Saturday and Sunday. Naturally we hope that those will put us way out in front, but I think a realistic expectation is that they could make us competitive, and if we as a team, the drivers and ourselves, work together, there's no reason why, if we deliver on that performance, we can't be competing for pole position, and therefore try and win from the front.

If we're not at the front, then we'll try and win from behind. We've done that a few times this year. We've got two great racing drivers and there's no reason why we can't do that. Generally Brazil provides an exciting race, so let's hope for everyone that we have an exciting race and that we keep the championship alive until Abu Dhabi.

Q: You said you'll allow both drivers to push for the title, but with Lewis in such a superior position, have you worked through situations in which you might ask Jenson Button to help him out?
MW:
I think we all know there are no team orders in the sport, so I think the right thing for a racing driver is to go there and win. I'd be disappointed if Jenson wasn't going there trying to win. I think the championship for Jenson in particular is tough, but if he was telling me that he'd given up, then I would be deeply disappointed.

So I think the right thing is that if he's getting his car in front of all of our competitors, that's the absolute right target and we'll see what happens in the course of the weekend. There's a good relationship between the two drivers. I'm sure they're going to co-operate with each other. I think Jenson is a remarkably composed, mature, thinking driver, and he should go there with the attitude of trying and seeking to win the race. During the course of the weekend, I'm sure he'll do everything he can to fulfil the ambitions of the team.

Q: So are you thinking of the possibility of Jenson helping Lewis out if things aren't going well for Button?
MW:
I think Lewis and Jenson are both going to try and win the race. In the race itself, then we'll see what that situation is. If we are in the fortunate position of running in a strong one-two position, then that's a nice challenge to have. But I think the right frame of mind for the team and both drivers is we should be going to any event trying to win it, and trying to have a one-two. In order to do that, we're going to have to deliver performance improvements, which we're seeking to, on the car, we're going to have to perform well in the setting up and as a team, and the drivers have got to be performing as well.

We can try and consider a variety of scenarios. We've been in championship hunts many times before, so have both these drivers. The best thing to do is to try and go there and win. We are not in the fortunate position of defending a lead, we're going there to attack and try and win.

Q: But presumably conversations about those scenarios are taking place?
MW:
I think the conversations are 'guys, let's focus, we'll try and make the car as good as we can, you try and win'. That's the depth of conversation going on at the moment.

Q: Can you clarify the situation on engine usage at McLaren. Do you feel you're in a better position than Ferrari and Red Bull?
MW:
I think we are. We're not going to get overly-confident. Mercedes-Benz have done a great job. We will not expect engines to run more than two race distances in races until the end of the season. Certainly some of our competitors are going to have to have more mileage on their engines, and their engines classically have not been quite as reliable as the Mercedes-Benz engines.

So I think there is a potential advantage that we have there. But that can change in one revolution of an engine. So we are fairly comfortable and confident with where we are with the engines. Some of the title contenders will have to use higher mileage engines than either of our drivers.

Q: Christian Horner said earlier this week that if Fernando Alonso were to win the world championship, it would be frustrating because 'Red Bull has been working under the auspices that team orders are illegal'. Do you share that point of view?
MW:
I have lots of private views on the outcome. I think if anyone other than a McLaren driver wins the championship it will be very frustrating... I'm not going to cast aspersions on what others have done. We run our team as we wish to and we understand the rules in one sense. It may well be that other teams have got a different view on that, but at the end of the day Red Bull have produced a fast car and they've been highly competitive all year. You've got to give Ferrari credit, regardless of the team order debate and all those other things, they were really struggling mid-season, they've had a resurgence and they've looked very competitive - and Alonso is a formidable competitor.

We shouldn't detract from what really, probably, is one of the greatest Formula One championships in our history, with issues about what teams did or didn't do during the course of the year. It's been a fantastic championship. Genuinely, at the moment, there are a number of contenders from three different teams competing for this championship, and I think that's been fantastic and we've had three one-twos, some great moments, some struggling moments. Red Bull have had moments of triumph and tragedy, and so have Ferrari, and that's moved around during the year. I hope the last two races see McLaren resurgent and dominant and scoring a one-two in the last two races. That would be a nice end to the season.

Q: So do you think it would reflect badly on the sport if what happened at Hockenheim was seen as decisive in the championship outcome?
MW:
I think we've had a very good championship and that's what we should think about, full stop.

Q: Regarding circuit characteristics, is it possible to predict which of the title contending teams' cars will be best suited to Interlagos with its bumps and long straights?
MW:
I think it is quite difficult to predict, and I think that's good. Maybe other teams or other pundits can. I can't predict it. I'd like to believe that we're going to be quick there. I think our advantage in F-duct territory has diminished, as you'd expect during the course of the year. It was a very innovative concept but it was very cheap to implement and other people have implemented it. We may have stayed ahead a little bit but I think our advantage there has diminished. Maybe we still have a little bit of an edge as the original inventors and creators of it.

With regard to the bumps, we made a number of developments. Bahrain, the very first race, in the new part of that circuit, Silverstone for various reasons had become a lot bumpier than it's ever been, they were relatively low moments for us in our performance. We're aware of that challenge in Brazil. We've got a number of things that we have done which we hope will help us, but whether they help us enough, we'll start to establish in the next 48 hours. But certainly we've made some progress.

I think there is no reason why we can't be competitive and win in Brazil. I believe that, the engineers and the drivers believe it. We're in a fierce championship at the moment. Ferrari and Red Bull won't stand still, they'll be doing everything they can to win, and I think frankly that's the great thing again about this championship - no one, I think, with high levels of confidence, whether you're inside a team or outside, can predict which car is going to be quicker around Interlagos between a McLaren, a Ferrari and a Red Bull.

Q: In your team press release, Lewis suggested that you had the third-fastest car heading to Brazil. With this in mind, do you think if it's wet in Brazil that could be to your advantage, given how competitive you’ve been in such conditions?
MW:
No I don’t, yet. We'll see. I think we've got some interesting developments. I'd like to run them in the dry on Friday. Friday is a test day for all of us, and it's easier to do that in the dry. I'd certainly like Friday to be a dry day.

We've seen many times wet races are very exciting, but if you're competitive there is a threat to executing the result that your competitiveness deserves. So we'll see. I've seen forecasts that tell me it's going to be dry every day and I've seen forecasts that tell me it's going to be wet every day. I think we’ve got to day there's a reasonable probability of some water on the track, there often is in Brazil. But either way, Brazil, strangely, is a circuit which maybe some modern-day circuit designers ought to go and visit, because generally it produces fantastic races. It's a great theatre when you go and watch it, not just the atmosphere, which can also be extraordinary there of course. It's a great venue and considering how long it's been around, I think there are a few lessons there to be learned for any budding circuit designer.

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