Interview with McLarens Jonathan Neale 31 Mar 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 teams managing director, Jonathan Neale, talked about their strategy decisions in Melbourne, the possible adoption of a ride-height control system, and this coming weekends Malaysian race
Q: How are the drivers getting on with their new race engineers? Obviously Lewis wasnt 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, its like picking the score draws or the winners of football matches on Monday morning. Thats 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?
JN: People are looking at rear wing systems or ride-height control. Its one of a number of things that we are evaluating. I wouldnt 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 Im not obsessed by ride-height control. I certainly know that if we bolted on another 20 points of downforce we would go quicker, and thats 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 well get a greater return on the investment in the car. As the downforce goes on, the car will go quicker, therell be less sliding and you can control the temperature. So its one of a number of things, but its not my headline story at the moment.
Q: So reports of any system being introduced before China are probably wide of the mark?
JN: Its something we are considering but its 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 cars pace particularly in qualifying?
JN: 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 youre running in the turbulent air. So we have got to really focus on what we do in qualifying. Weve got aggressive drivers, and weve got straight-line pace, but theres a range of things weve got to do to make sure we dont squander those opportunities.
Q: After the strategy error in Australia, are you going to change the way you decide on strategies in the future?
JN: I think thats 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 doesnt go well, you do it publically. We made Lewis world champion and hes 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 its something for us to learn from. Youve 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?
JN: Yes there are, there are some aerodynamic details. Theres some stuff around the front, and some stuff around the floor. Im not sure youll see anything radical.
Q: What are your expectations for the race?
JN: At the moment its looking like torrential rain out there. The best information I have is that its 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 weve 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 its going to be eventful, thats my hunch. I dont think its going to be a boring race for a minute.
Q: How did the team respond to Hamiltons criticism after the Australia race?
JN: Weve 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 theres plenty for us to learn and take away from that. We know with Lewis that every time he comes in he hasnt left anything out on the circuit. He gives it his all and it is up to us to step up and follow him. Hes a great guy.