Exclusive Q&A - McLarens Martin Whitmarsh 24 Sep 2010
After a relatively slow start to the season, McLaren have worked hard to become world championship contenders, with both of their drivers in the running for glory. If they achieve their goal, it will be for the first time under current team principal Martin Whitmarsh. Would he prefer Hamilton or Button to win? Whitmarsh doesnt care, as long as one of them does it, even if he does he admit that recruiting Button was almost an accident
Q: This year McLaren are running a season with zero scandal or friction. Could this good working environment tip the balance in your favour and bring you both titles?
Martin Withmarsh: I hope so obviously. We fortunately have two drivers that genuinely want to beat each other, and there is a great spirit. If you take a look at the last two races, there has been misfortune for both of them. Two races ago Lewis won, Jenson was taken out and fell somewhere behind in the points, and we had a victory photograph after the race where Jenson and I had to pull Lewis out of his room. Then Jenson said to Lewis, it might be 35 points, but this would have been only 14 points in the old system, and I am still going to beat you. So this is what I would call a good spirit. They respect one another, and they are learning from each other. This is what we are trying to create, a true sense of competition. They should both want to beat each other. Within the pit lane F1 had had too many years of controversy. I think people were getting bored of what happens in the paddock. The truth is that we have 24 brave young men that are driving the most advanced vehicles in the world, and this is what we should be talking about. We have now probably the greatest championship fight that we had for many years. The TV audience is up; particularly in the UK they have grown significantly, but also worldwide they went up by about seven percent and that is against the trend in other sports. Weve got a championship after 14 races where the first five are separated by less than one race wins worth of points. If anyone asks for predictions, I think that no one can. The team that develops the best, makes the least mistakes and the driver that performs the best and also makes the least mistakes: these will be the winning factors. I also think that there is a good relationship between the teams. This is not an easy task to maintain, amongst 12 teams which come out from different perspectives. You have got the traditional 30-year battle between Ferrari and McLaren, where we have at the moment a very positive relationship, and then you have teams like Red Bull, who would be rated as the new kids on the block, and they are very strong as well. So to have five drivers - and fortunately two of them are our drivers - within one race win at this point of the season is amazing.
Q: How could you be sure that your two champions would get along so well? Such a pairing could easily have exploded in your face - like the much easier considered pairing of a champion with a rookie did in the past
MW: The fact is, you cant. Our approach is more that we get the best two drivers available. Frankly at this time last year I was working quite hard to try and get Kimi Raikkonen back, and I have got tremendous respect for him being a world champion, and to me it is a shame that he is not in Formula One today. At the end of last year, and this might have been a bit opportunistic, we saw that we had a chance to get Jenson, and he was really proving that he was a mature race driver. He was defending the championship lead, and towards the end of last season Red Bull Racing and us had clearly quicker cars than him. He drove with the right level of measure and aggressiveness to become world champion. So we thought to try and get him, and at this point of time I did not know him very well. Even though his first drive was in a McLaren when he was a youngster, I hadn't had very much to do with him. He now has contributed a lot to the ambience and the spirit of the team, because he is so charming and has got his feet on the ground, being a world champion. He is a real credit to Formula One. He is someone from whom Lewis is learning. Lewis has this raw, naked aggressiveness, probably being the best overtaking driver in the world, whereas Jenson has the experience, still being very quick as well. Seeing them touch each other in Turkey, which could have been very serious, was a demonstration that they both want to beat each other.
Q: Look at Saturdays and clearly Red Bull have been head and shoulders above everyone else in 2010 - 12 pole positions from a possible 14. Look at races results, however, and they have only six wins compared to your five. Could cleverly capitalizing on the shortcomings of others do the trick for you?
MW: I think it is a mixture. If you look at the season, then early on Red Bull Racing had a significant qualifying pace advantage. In the races we were about as quick as them, still not in the qualifying. We as a team and also the drivers have worked hard and used the potential we had. Red Bull Racing made some mistakes we could capitalize on. I think during the rest of the season they then had some moments, potentially during the flexible wing moments, when they got a fairly long way ahead of us. But as of Spa, where we should have been in the first row, you have also seen Ferrari very strong. And it is great for the sport that we have made improvements to the car and new developments for here. Also I see that they have a new rear wing package, and probably a lot of other things that I can't see. So everyone is pushing hard. So we will see a qualifying where I couldn't predict the outcome. At these low-speed circuits we haven't been as strong as we would have liked to be, like in Monaco or Budapest, where we classically have been very strong.
Q: Which of your two drivers would you prefer to win the title? There are constantly rumours that Lewis Hamilton would be your man, not least because Lewis has a 3:2 race win advantage over Jenson
MW: No, genuinely I have no preference. Fact is that I very much admire Jenson's bravery in joining McLaren. I would be delighted if he became world champion. I have known Lewis since he was 11, and inevitable people see me very close to him. I think Lewis still has many years ahead of him, and I am sure he is going to win many more world championships, and I hope in our team. So providing a McLaren driver wins, I would be happy and then I don't care which one wins.
Q: You recently hailed this season as an epic, but you have also argued that not enough is done to promote the sport. Can you share your views on these at-first-glance contradictory statements?
MW: I think both the teams and drivers are putting on a fantastic championship. We have gone pretty much into every race weekend not knowing who is going to win, and weve had a good spread of winners. And if you take a look into how extraordinary our drivers are, and what the sport has to offer, then we don't promote ourselves very well. I think we are too prone to talk about the floors, the efficiencies and problems of our sport. We are not as collective as we ought to be. Part of the issue with 30 years of war with Ferrari has been bred by the desire to beat them. I still have a strong desire to beat Ferrari, and I am sure they have a strong desire to beat us. But I think now we have recognition to demonstrate that we can cooperate. If we can get all the teams, the governing body and the commercial rights holder to cooperate, then we need a more of a concerted effort together, especially when we go into new markets. In Europe we are spoiled, as everyone knows Formula One. But now going into new markets like China, India and Korea we have to learn that it is not good enough to go there and race. You have to go there and excite, promote and market the sport, and we are not doing that. We have arrived in China, with magnificent facilities there, but now you sense that the initial excitement is falling away, and we need to be doing much more than we are appearing to be doing as a sport. I am not blaming anyone; we all must accept blame for this. We all together are not working hard enough to promote what a fantastic sport we have.
Q: Formula One is and has always been a heroes sport. But where have the heroes gone? Shouldnt the world champion be the first ambassador of the sport?
MW: It is. If you take a look at the champions for the last 20 or 30 years, some of them have maybe been too introvert to be ambassadors. Also maybe some of them have been perusing the objective too ruthlessly to be an ambassador. It is interesting enough, but the last two world champions happen to be in this team. They are young, the girls tell me they are good looking, I can't see it myself, but they are very charming and very open - and both happen to be British. Probably we should export that much more. But again Formula One has not learned - none of us has learned - to be good marketers for our sport and I wish we would be.
Q: So if one of your drivers ends up as the new world champion he will be available to be the poster boy of the sport?
MW: Well, the problem with our sport is that a world champion is it for a moment in time: from the start of the next season people will know that he is a reigning world champion - but will also look who is coming next. The period where they can rest easy as world champion is relatively short and maybe we as a sport dont emphasize enough how heroic they are - because genuinely they are!
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