Q&A: McLaren's Jonathan Neale on rivals, car revisions and rain 05 Apr 2011
Lewis Hamiltons podium finish in Australia may have proved McLarens pre-season naysayers wrong but the British team are far from satisfied. All too aware of Red Bulls startling pace in Melbourne, they are determined to close the gap between their MP4-26 and the front-running RB7 as soon as possible. In a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session, managing director Jonathan Neale talks about the team's performance in Melbourne, the pace of their rivals and this weekends Malaysian race
Q: You abandoned your radical exhaust system ahead of the start of the season. Will you try and run it again?
Jonathan Neale: Well clearly it would be foolish of me to give away our future engineering development plans. So Ill decline to comment on where were going with the exhaust development. But what I would say is that, as with most years, you've got a number of teams working on different aspects of the car. There are a whole range of interesting features out there and every team is looking at everybody else. That was true when we all looked at the double diffuser as it was when we released the F-duct last year. Typically we always want to explore and understand why a team has gone in a specific direction, particularly if they are quick. That is just the natural cycle. But I think what you will find in a few races time is a number of teams evaluating exhaust systems, because it would appear that there is some performance there.
Q: With one race down it seems the consensus is that McLaren have work to do to match Red Bull. But are there any areas of the car you are especially happy with and where you could hold an advantage?
JN: Not until were on front row I wouldnt say so, no. We dont think that we necessarily had the quickest car out there. Evidently we didnt. And were working very hard over the next few races to try and make sure Lewis (Hamilton) and Jenson (Button) can get on the front row for qualifying. I think theres still a reasonable amount of work to do. There are some areas of the car that were satisfied with but, clearly, at this stage its all about how we can exploit the tyres, how we can get the downforce on the car.
Q: What worries McLaren the most about Malaysia - the heat, the Pirelli tyres or the chance of rain?
JN: I think rain is the honest answer to that. If you remember last year we, and Ferrari, found ourselves in around P22 and P23 which is always very uncomfortable for a Saturday evening. Were going to be running when there is a high possibility of rain. It will make it interesting for the spectators - and stressful for the teams. It will be interesting for us to see how the Pirelli tyres work in the rain. We experienced some torrential rain in Barcelona during the winter testing but we havent really done much running on the inters yet. But thats the same for everybody. So never mind what the conditions are, we all have to go through them.
Q: Button said after Australia that he felt your KERS system was more effective than Red Bulls. Do you agree and what will it be worth to you, per lap, in Malaysia?
JN: I wouldnt have thought hed know about Red Bulls KERS system, certainly I dont know about their KERS. I think on the basis that as Mercedes have an extra 12 months experience than the others then there should be advantages with integration and packaging. But its a difficult thing to quantify as we dont have any comparative information. One thing we are all looking for at this stage is to make sure our cars are as reliable as possible.
Q: Its said that Melbourne doesnt give a true reflection of car competitiveness due to the nature of the circuit. Do you think thats the case? And were there any teams that surprised you in terms of performance or lack of performance?
JN: Although we didnt win the race, we were pleased with the performance of our car. It was a confidence boost for us. We are not for one minute thinking that we have seen the best of Ferrari or Mercedes at this stage. You know we watched each other carefully through winter testing and I am absolutely sure that both of those teams have more to bring. In terms of the nature of the circuit, once you get to venue like Malaysia with much hotter track temperatures, and certainly circuits like Barcelona which are pretty challenging, I think they will test the cars more fully.
Q: The season started with a fair bit of speculation over some drivers' futures. I just wondered whether McLaren have started looking at the long-term future of their drivers?
JN: Its one of those things that goes on continuously behind the scenes but we don't choose to talk about it very much. As you are aware, when we were having the conversations with Jenson, we would rather have come out at a point where we could say - this is what we are doing'. Rather than saying that 'this is what we think might happen'. Just anticipating where your question was coming from. I think the fact that some teams are speculating that it would be good to have Lewis drive for them, I don't think that is particularly newsworthy. We would feel the same way if he wasn't driving us. I think he is pretty good.
Q: Based on what we saw in Melbourne, what changes do you think need to be made to parameters of the Drag Reduction System?
JN: Well Paddy (Lowe) is working closely with the FIA and some of the other technical directors at the moment to make sure that we get the position at which to deploy it right. Malaysia has a good straight so we can really see how these things will work. But we have been surprised and pleased at the drag reduction system in Australia because it didn't make overtaking very easy but there was an ability there for the drivers to attack under some circumstances. So I don't think at this stage that it needs root and branch overhaul, I think we just need to work with the FIA to refine it now.
For Formula One and F1 team merchandise, click here.