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Interview with McLaren's Jonathan Neale 31 Mar 2010

Jonathan Neale (GBR) McLaren Managing Director 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 12 March 2010 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/25 leads Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB6.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 28 March 2010 Race winner Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 28 March 2010 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 28 March 2010 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/25.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 26 March 2010

The Australian Grand Prix was a hit and miss affair for McLaren. Whilst reigning world champion Jenson Button clinched an excellent victory, team mate Lewis Hamilton was left frustrated. In a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session, the British team’s managing director, Jonathan Neale, talked about their strategy decisions in Melbourne, the possible adoption of a ride-height control system, and this coming weekend’s Malaysian race…

Q: How are the drivers getting on with their new race engineers? Obviously Lewis wasn’t happy in Australia about how his race panned out…
Jonathan Neale:
Both drivers are settling with their race engineers very well. You saw in Australia a very happy Jenson Button who was over the moon with the way his team had prepared him for the weekend. I spoke with Lewis on Monday morning and he wanted me just to reaffirm to the team how supportive and grateful he is for all their efforts and work. We go to Malaysia with Lewis very much a man on a mission. Do I think with the benefit of hindsight we got it wrong? Yes, it’s like picking the score draws or the winners of football matches on Monday morning. That’s just the way it is when you have split-second or, in this case, 30-second decisions to make. They were weighing up a number of options. Was Lewis going to get past Robert (Kubica)? Were the tyres going to degrade more? Were we going to get caught by Webber? Who knows?

Q: A question about ride-height control systems. Are McLaren planning on introducing such a system?
People are looking at rear wing systems or ride-height control. It’s one of a number of things that we are evaluating. I wouldn’t say there was any silver bullet as to why Red Bull are particularly quick. Formula One is still Formula One and it still relies on horsepower and downforce. I think we can look quite carefully at the tyres to get the best out of those, but I’m not obsessed by ride-height control. I certainly know that if we bolted on another 20 points of downforce we would go quicker, and that’s been true last year and the year before. Our principle focus at the moment is just to bring aerodynamic upgrades to the car under these regulations, and that will have two effects, one of which is straight lap time and more traction, and secondly we’ll get a greater return on the investment in the car. As the downforce goes on, the car will go quicker, there’ll be less sliding and you can control the temperature. So it’s one of a number of things, but it’s not my headline story at the moment.

Q: So reports of any system being introduced before China are probably wide of the mark?
It’s something we are considering but it’s not my prime focus at the moment. Adrian (Newey) designs good cars, we know that. I just need to get some more downforce on this car.

Q: What areas are the team looking at to improve the car’s pace particularly in qualifying?
There are a number of things at the moment. The car feels good in high-speed corners and the guys are very happy with the balance of the car. I think every team is still looking at what we do with the option tyre, particularly in qualifying. As we saw in Australia, Renault got themselves into a really good position in the race and in qualifying and Robert (Kubica) drove a very good race. But the Ferraris, which are no slouches driven by two very good drivers, struggled to get round him. And when Lewis closed to within 1.5/2s a lap, the moment that he got in behind the car, the car became different because you’re running in the turbulent air. So we have got to really focus on what we do in qualifying. We’ve got aggressive drivers, and we’ve got straight-line pace, but there’s a range of things we’ve got to do to make sure we don’t squander those opportunities.

Q: After the strategy error in Australia, are you going to change the way you decide on strategies in the future?
I think that’s over-egging the pudding there. There are many Formula One teams who have made mistakes. One of the great things about this industry is that you get tested in front of the fiercest competitors and millions of people, so when something doesn’t go well, you do it publically. We made Lewis world champion and he’s won and driven some fantastic races. Are we completely mistake proof? No. Do we try and learn from that every time? Yes. It really was a very action-filled race and a split-second decision was required. You have got to make those decisions at the time, so it’s something for us to learn from. You’ve got to remember that it was the same team that said to Jenson we are ready for you, two laps before he made the decision to come in. So on the flip of the coin, we got it absolutely right.

Q: Are there any updates on the car for Malaysia, and if so what should we look out for?
Yes there are, there are some aerodynamic details. There’s some stuff around the front, and some stuff around the floor. I’m not sure you’ll see anything radical.

Q: What are your expectations for the race?
At the moment it’s looking like torrential rain out there. The best information I have is that it’s going to be another wet weekend so it promises to be an exciting race. Malaysia as a circuit has some high-speed corners, which will suit the car, but we’ve still got work to do on low-speed traction and making the best of our straight-line performance. Getting out of the exits is important to us. I think it’s going to be eventful, that’s my hunch. I don’t think it’s going to be a boring race for a minute.

Q: How did the team respond to Hamilton’s criticism after the Australia race?
We’ve had a number of racing drivers over the years. These guys are quick and passionate and want to race well. If these guys are frustrated then we feel we should do something different to support them better. We understand why Lewis would have been as frustrated as he was. He himself would say there’s plenty for us to learn and take away from that. We know with Lewis that every time he comes in he hasn’t left anything out on the circuit. He gives it his all and it is up to us to step up and follow him. He’s a great guy.