McLaren: We are 100 percent behind Hamilton 12 Oct 2011
The last few weeks have been amongst the toughest of Lewis Hamiltons career. Not only has he seen another championship chance slip away, hes been overshadowed by McLaren team mate Jenson Button and found himself scolded by fellow drivers and harangued on the back pages by the press. Its not surprising then that much of a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-In with managing director Jonathan Neale on Wednesday was dedicated to Hamiltons recent troubles
Q: Theres been a lot written about Hamilton recently and his state of mind. Is there concern within the team? How confident are you that his contract will be renewed beyond 2012?
Jonathan Neale: Lewis is his own biggest critic. He desperately wants to win and hes understandably not happy when either his team mate beats him or someone else is winning the race or the championship. So after seeing the title slide away this year to Red Bull, hes tough on himself and very disappointed. And we would be disappointed if he didnt feel that way. Lewis is a phenomenal driver. Hes had 16 race wins, is constantly exciting on the circuit and is always in the action. And we love him for that. So certainly Im concerned to make sure that he feels and understands that we are 100 percent behind him. Its been a difficult season for him. We havent given him the car to get the job done, but what hes done with it has been fantastic. Were delighted to have re-signed Jenson (Button) and were confident Lewis wants to stay here and we want Lewis to stay here after next year. Were very confident hell be firing on all cylinders in the car next year. We need to give him a car to get the job done and thats our responsibility to do that. Every racing driver wants to be in a team that can win - and we can here at McLaren. We are disappointed in ourselves not to win the world championship this year, but weve put up a good fight from the start and on a number of occasions weve had the quickest race car - as we saw in Japan. So Red Bull are vulnerable and beatable - its just the rest of us have to work harder.
Q: Suzuka saw a strangely subdued performance from Hamilton and it was probably the first time in his career that hes not been competitive. Why do you think that was and how concerned are you over his form this season?
JN: I think if I look at his last few races then he hasnt had the results that hes wanted. You have to remember that professional sport is - as the England rugby team will be feeling when they read the Sunday papers - a brutal business. One reporter wrote that in sport winners are deified and losers are vilified. So we can all turn and ask wheres Lewis? and whats he doing? But the reality is that he is a really quick driver. Hes a really nice guy and he puts all his heart into it. In this particular race we found ourselves on the cusp of a three-stop and a four-stop race and it really mattered enormously that we got a good first stint on the tyres. And for a number of reasons Lewis was not able - and we must look at ourselves as a team as to why that was - to get the performance out of the rear tyres that Jenson was able to get. His lap times on the rear tyres fell away from about Lap Eight onwards and from that moment he was on the back foot. If you look at the race traces, as I have done, and look at how he carved through a number a people when he got the opportunity, he did a good job to bring that car back, but he was always going to be on the back foot with a three-stop strategy called in on Lap 10. Consequently when we were looking at whether that was either a puncture, a pressure or tyre temperature-related problem, we may have got a slightly wrong steer from the data in that stint and we may have compromised him on his second stint. So we must look at that as a team, as it was always going to be tough from the moment that happened. We saw slowly declining pressure in the rear tyres and Lewis was complaining of the rear tyres dropping away and we had no option but to bring him in and change them at that point. Beyond that its massively frustrating for him as he doesnt like to be rolling around in P4 and P5. Thats not where Lewis Hamiltons heart is or where we want him either.
Q: Red Bull may have won the drivers title, but McLaren had the edge in Japan. Do you agree and can this continue for the rest of the season?
JN: Yes I do think we had the edge in Japan. I have never seen a garage so massively disappointed to get second and third in qualifying. Nine-thousandths is not very much. I understand from the data I was looking at that a blink of an eye is 100 milliseconds, so one-tenth of that is not very much. We were beaten by the narrowest of margins but these things are important to us. We had a race car that had pace in it. Although we were managing fuel very carefully over those last agonising laps, once we knew we had enough fuel to get the car home we pushed again and set purple sectors in the last two or three laps. It was a bit nerve racking for the rest of us in the garage waiting to bring the car home, but we definitely had the pace of the grid at that point and that bodes well for the rest of the season. So regardless of where we are in the championship, we want to win races and that applies to Korea and beyond.
Q: Ferrari are very concerned about all the teams sticking to the Resource Restriction Agreement. Do you think the agreement is in danger at all and if so is it much of a threat to FOTA?
JN: I think theres always going to be a degree of tension between the teams and there has been recent speculation about whether Red Bull are complying or not. But none of us really knows because we are not in there, we don't really understand how their business operates or how it is divided. Quite understandably, many of the teams mask the way in which their public accounts are provided so that you can't reverse engineer what's going on. Formula One has for decades been surrounded with a bit of mistrust and rumour - allegations about what are they doing, are they cheating on the circuit, have they got some new wonder device etc. - and I think thats all part of the sport. I think in reality the bigger prize is that Formula One does need to stick together. We are doing well in capping costs in many areas and I think its an exciting challenge, alongside the FIA, for technology development for 2014 and beyond. There will inevitably be pressures, there are those who would seek to divide the teams as we get ourselves ready for the next round of commercial negotiations, and there will be tensions of course. Everybody wants to do the best for their team but this generation of professional team principals are more than equipped to see the bigger picture as well as fight their own teams corner.
Q: How are the guys back in the factory feeling about Hamilton and his troubles?
JN: The sense of the workforce is that they'd like to see more of Lewis. With the flyaways recently we haven't been able to get him back as much as they'd like. They're very keen to make sure that he understands and feels the warmth and the love from this end. After every race weekend, either Martin (Whitmarsh) or I do a race debrief in front of the whole workforce and we talked about the comments in the press about Lewis. A lot of what McLaren have enjoyed over the last few years - race wins, the championship and also the fighting spirit - have been down to Lewis. During the first half of 2009 Lewis was pulling performances out of a car that were well beyond the cars performance and rightly won in Hungary because of that. Lewis is a force of nature and we love him for all of that. We are not unused to having exciting racing drivers. We have had Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya, Fernando Alonso, and now Lewis and Jenson. And both drivers are getting better. Many would argue that Jenson is probably driving the best he ever has and continues to get stronger. I'm confident that Lewis has some stuff to learn and can get better, but then I'm twice Lewis's age and the same goes for me as well - I'm anything but the finished product. But the workforce when I was talking to them yesterday gave Lewis a standing ovation and asked would we get Lewis back here so he can feel and understand that and we will do just that. Lewis is a really important part of this team.
Q: The titles obviously gone - how does that affect the development schedule for 2012?
JN: Inevitably we have shifted the focus, but in Formula One you want to have your cake and eat it, so were shifting the development on this years car to areas for next year, whilst learning from this years car as well. Clearly there are changes to regulations, in particular in regards to the exhaust regulations. But front and rear wings and floor development are all carry-over learning, so anything we are developing for the MP4-27 well try and pull forward and bring in for this season if we possibly can.
For Formula One and F1 team merchandise, click here.