Q&A with McLarens Martin Whitmarsh 08 Jun 2010
McLarens well-deserved one-two in Turkey saw the British team oust rivals Red Bull from the lead of the constructors championship. In a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session, team principal Martin Whitmarsh discusses the nail-biting tussle between team mates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at Istanbul Park, the teams chances in Montreal and the possibility of rain for the Canadian race
Q: Could you put us in the picture a bit about what happened between Hamilton and Button in Turkey. Weve heard the message which Hamilton received that said his team mate wouldnt pass him
Martin Whitmarsh: Shortly after he was told that Jenson wouldnt overtake him, Jenson did overtake him. Phil (Prew - Principal race engineer) gave an opinion, and it turned out his opinion was wrong. Its as simple as that. They are racing drivers. They both had a challenge in that race. From the outset it was a bit quicker for the Red Bulls and for the McLarens than we had expected, so in the early laps we were consuming more fuel than we needed to, and we then had to find ways to save fuel. Inevitably as you get to the end of race there is a dilemma about how hard you can race. I think we had it amply demonstrated that a team and their drivers can get that wrong. Theres no doubt that both of our drivers want to win and they were being told to look after fuel. But as a consequence of that, Phil had the opinion that Jenson wouldnt overtake. Clearly that opinion was a wrong one. I dont think it was expected that Lewis would lift as much in Turn Eight as he did. I think for Jenson, who is a racing driver, when he saw quite a big lift in Turn Eight he thought it was his opportunity and subsequently made the pass.
Q: How have you handled the situation with Hamilton, and what has he said himself about it?
MW: They know that they are racing drivers. Lewis was surprised. He asked the question, and Phil gave an instinctive and immediate response, which is that he didnt think Jenson was going to pass. He knew that theyd both been given the same instruction to save fuel. I think Lewis understood that, and wasnt about to give up first place easily, and made a fairly robust overtake to ensure he remained in the lead. Thereafter I think the two of them decided there was a reasonably fair and equitable equilibrium as they had the blend of looking to ensure they finished comfortably with fuel and with cars intact.
Q: They may have ultimately been quicker, but you had Red Bull under real pressure in Istanbul. How have you closed the gap, and why has no one else been able to do the same?
MW: Undoubtedly in Istanbul, Red Bull still had an advantage on us in qualifying. But I think that it was clear in the race that we had faster pace and that was very encouraging. Its really down to good, hard solid work here, developing the car. We try to bring small incremental improvements to the car on a continuous basis. Its very easy to go and look for the eureka developments to catch up, but in truth - and certainly in my experience - youve just got to work at finding downforce, reducing drag, finding balance and thats what weve done. Well certainly continue to do. Red Bull havent conveniently stood still for us. Theyre a good team and theyre developing. I think we pride ourselves on trying to develop quicker than our competitors, and we proved that we could last year. And were going to try and do it again this year and keep the pressure on them. We have two great race drivers of course and that always helps.
Q: Montreal is likely to favour your car. Do you regard this race and Valencia as must wins, if you are to consolidate your position in the championship?
MW: It would certainly be nice to win! We hope we are strong and we have a few more development items on the car for this weekend. We are going to try and make a bit more progress with our car. Its obviously where Lewis won his first Grand Prix a few years ago, so its happy hunting ground for him. Red Bull are still very strong in long, high-speed corners and fortunately the next two Grands Prix dont feature a lot of those. So we hope that well be strong there, but at the same time you never know what Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari are going to turn up with. So I dont think wed ever consider them must wins, but we do hope to be strong.
Q: What new bits have you got on the car this weekend?
MW: We have a new front wing again. We had a new one as part of the package in Istanbul, which didnt work. We think weve understood that and so weve modified it, and hopefully that will work. We have a few rear-wing lower elements and some slight modifications to diffusers etc. So weve got a reasonable aerodynamic package, which we hope will take us a few steps further forward.
Q: Are third cars still a possibility?
MW: Undoubtedly in my mind, although Im a little partisan, Formula One is the pinnacle of motor racing - technologically and in terms of the quality of the field, teams and drivers. I think, apart from the greats we already have in our sport, it would be fantastic to have (World Rally champion) Sebastien Loeb, (Moto GP legend) Valentino Rossi, (NASCAR champion) Jimmy Johnson, or whoever participating in Formula One. I think it would be natural for them to consider the opportunity and I think it would be fantastic for Formula One. Ive no doubt that all of those guys have incredible talent and if they put their mind to it, and gave themselves enough focus and time, that they would be very competitive F1 drivers.
Q: Is it still on the table then?
MW: It hasnt been recently. Its really an idea if you get a reduced number of teams. We are working hard to find ways to encourage all of the teams to develop and flourish. If you introduce a third car -McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes would all probably be happy to have a third car - but I think in fairness to the smaller teams it would only disadvantage them further. So in the event that the number of teams drops below 10 - and at the moment were hoping it is 13 next year - it would be a fantastic opportunity.
Q: With the momentum from Hamiltons win - and after the problems at Red Bull - is there a feeling in the team that now is the time to take advantage?
MW: I think weve pulled ourselves up in the last few races. We have made some mistakes this year and we could have done a better job, but I think we do have good momentum and there is a strong feeling in the team. But we don't underestimate Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. They're all capable of fighting back. They've got good people, good drivers. I suspect this will be an epic Formula One season. A few races ago people were predicting a Red Bull runaway and I think people now suspect that the whole thing's going to be a lot closer than that. We've had a number of different winners this year. Most of the races have been great spectacles and I think predicting even the outcome of this coming weekend is impossible for any pundit to do and that's how the sport should be. That's what makes it exciting for all of us within the teams. I'd love to be confident that we could go and win in Montreal but I'm not that confident. I believe it's possible and I hope we can. Incidentally the latest forecast suggests it could be weather influenced as well, which would stir things up even more. Aside from that, we all know you have to look after your brakes, as well as the car. Its a challenging circuit for braking and it normally springs a few bumps, during the course of a Canadian winter, and theres been two since weve been back. So we dont exactly know what were going to get and how well deal with it when we get there, which is how Formula One should be.