McLaren's Whitmarsh on new engines, new rules & new drivers 23 Jun 2011
Mixed would be the word to describe McLarens form recently. From the depths of Jenson Buttons and Lewis Hamiltons Montreal collision to the heights of Buttons subsequent victory, its been a rollercoaster ride of emotions, especially for the man at the helm, team principal Martin Whitmarsh. Not only has Whitmarsh had to shoulder the on-track shenanigans, hes also been kept busy with off-track negotiations concerning new engine rules for 2014, mid-season regulation changes and a fair dose of speculation concerning his driver line-up. He explains more in a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-in
Q: Formula One was due to switch from 2.4 litre V8s to 1.6 litre, four-cylinder turbo engines in 2013. Now, subject to FIA approval, the teams hope the move will instead be to 1.6 litre V6 turbos in 2014. Are you happy with the postponement and the change?
Martin Whitmarsh: Yes to both. The important bit is that I am happy that we have agreement between the manufacturers - they have all agreed and endorsed this, which is extremely positive. The teams have agreed it. It was agreed overwhelmingly within the Formula One Commission yesterday. So I think thats positive because, clearly, theres been a range of different opinions expressed, so to achieve a consensus amongst all the parties was very positive.
Q: It sounds as though the focus is on keeping the existing manufacturers in the sport rather than trying to attract new manufacturers to the sport
MW: In the long run we should make sure we are attractive to a range of automotive manufacturers. They will, according to their marketing needs and priorities, come in and out of Formula One periodically, which is what has happened over the history of Formula One. The worlds gone through an economic crisis. The automotive industry had the largest recession in its entire history. And I think our timing was perhaps a little bit premature, and perhaps, it was a little bit too condensed. So I think the right thing to do is to ensure that you keep what youve got which I think we have been able to do with this agreement. I hope, in the future, for the sake of Formula One that new manufacturers find the regulations relevant, interesting and stimulating. And consequently at some time in the future come in as well.
Q: Obviously the new McLaren road car has a McLaren-branded engine in it. Will the new regulations tempt McLaren to explore the possibility of manufacturing their own Formula One engine in the future?
MW: No. Its nice our road car has a fantastic engine, which is in its class a downsized turbo-charged engine. But there isnt any temptation to do so. Formula One is an incredibly powerful marketing opportunity and its an area that automotive companies have seen has been beneficial for brand exposure, brand differentiation. But the cost of Formula One is such that you need to amortise that over millions of cars per annum. Not thousands. McLarens maximum planned output, certainly for the foreseeable future, is no greater than 4,500 units per year. So it really doesnt make sense to use a marketing tool like Formula One for the engine.
Q: McLaren is the only one of the top teams that hasnt won around Valencia. How confident are you of being able to turn that around this weekend?
MW: I think anyone who claims to be confident going in to a Grand Prix is generally pretty foolhardy. The pace of development between the top teams is very high. We have made some reasonable progress, I think, in the last three races. In the race itself we've had the quickest race car. But we haven't had the quickest qualifying car. There are some changes this weekend in that the FIA will enforce a strict parc ferme regulation which will mean that the car as qualifies will be the car that races. Based on that, we should be hopeful. But I think we've got to assume that everyone's been working hard. We've got a few components that we're going to bring to the race, I think we've got two very motivated drivers and we'll do our best to win there. We have won at most circuits obviously and it would be nice to win at Valencia.
Q: What changes will you make to the car for the British Grand Prix in response to the ban on off-throttle blown diffusers?
MW: Well I think its very much still up in the air. On the face of it well be making various changes that are deemed necessary by the FIA. I think its quite a complex area and the precise characteristics havent been decided yet because theres been some clarification. I sense the teams are still talking to the FIA and well have further clarification over the course of the next ten days or so. But mechanically we will continue to develop the car and aerodynamically... the engine mapping will certainly change in accordance with the guidelines once they are clear.
Q: Former Formula One driver Eddie Irvine has reportedly said that Lewis Hamilton seems to have lost the plot of late. What are your thoughts on his form recently?
MW: Its always important to listen to Eddie Irvine about drivers who have lost the plot but Lewis has had some tough races, but that's what happens in motor racing. He's a passionate, aggressive, very motivated driver, who is one of the most exciting in the world to watch. I don't think he's going to change his approach. You know he can win this weekend, I'm sure that's what he's determined to do and he'll just be focused on that. I dont think he's going to change his approach. I think he's been quick, but things haven't quite gone the way he would have liked them to at the last couple of races, but I think he hasn't lost any form. He's been quick, aggressive and feared by any driver on the track. So let's see how he gets on this weekend. I think he's certainly fired up, he looks in good shape. Hes very enthusiastic to have a great result this weekend.
Q: Have you sat down with him to discuss it?
MW: I had a chat to him after Monaco. We had a chat about what happened out of the car - not in the car. I saw him a couple of nights ago and hes in good shape. He doesnt like not winning. He didnt particularly enjoy the last two race weekends but hell be looking forward to this one.
Q: How close are you to confirming Buttons contract extension beyond 2012 and are you concerned about Hamilton possibly leaving in 2013?
MW: As a general statement we've got two great drivers in the team. I think they enjoy being in this team. They both want to win and I think we've seen them racing each other and other cars to prove that. We'll talk about the future with them when the time comes, but at the moment we're not planning on a different driver line-up. We are very fortunate to have two great drivers who are great in the team and great with one another. Like the last race weekend, to have your two drivers make contact and have one not finish the race is not what you want to happen, but I think if you look back at it the relationship between those two drivers after the incident was remarkably strong and good. Lewis waited around to congratulate Jenson on a great win. He showed great spirit after a painful weekend and great affection for the team. It speaks volumes about the relationship between those two guys that within minutes they both regretted it. Neither was blaming the other. It was a racing incident that happened.
Q: Lewis has been linked to Red Bull for 2013. Are you making strides to stop that happening?
MW: Ultimately Lewis will decide where he's going, but I think he enjoys being in this team. Lewis as a top driver will be linked to any team that the media think can afford him or satisfy his expectations. I don't pay too much attention to what's written in the media - in my experience it hasn't been a good guide to what is really happening on driver negotiations.
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