Exclusive interview - McLarens Martin Whitmarsh 13 Jul 2011
They may be the only team other than Red Bull to have won more than one race this year, but by their own high standards McLaren are having a tough season. Sunday at Silverstone was a case in point - one car under-fuelled, the other missing a wheel. With the MP4-26 being trumped by the RB7 and his two drivers itching for more wins and titles, team principal Martin Whitmarsh is a man under pressure. In part one of an exclusive interview, he discusses McLarens 2011 trials and tribulations to date
Q: Martin, you are one of only two teams to win more than one race this year. Is it satisfying even though the tally stands at six victories for Red Bull and two for McLaren?
Martin Whitmarsh: Its not satisfying enough. I definitely would like to have it the other way around. (laughs) Of course we arrive at a race venue trying to win - and we have had some good wins - but that will never be enough for McLaren. The fact is that for Ferrari and McLaren, if we are not winning then we are in for a tough time. McLaren has been racing in Formula One since 1967 and have won 25 percent of all the races, so we are not excused if we dont win - nor are Ferrari. Two or three years ago Red Bull werent winning and nobody criticized them. And all the other teams can also getting away with not winning - but we cant. And I dont have a problem with that. We want to win and therefore we are tough on ourselves and of course hugely disappointed if we are not winning. So two wins are nice, but wed like it to be much more.
Q: What part of the car is not working at its best?
MW: We are striving for excellence everywhere. Without getting too technical, I think that Red Bull has been exploiting this exhaust blowing and weve been a little bit new to that, so we are trying to catch up and we are trying to further develop the car. We are improving - but so are they and all the teams. Thats the never-ending development race. When you look back at our winter, we were a disaster. We managed to recover and I would say that weve certainly improved more than anyone else. And we need to keep it up.
Q: Are you surprised by Red Bulls dominance and the struggles of Ferrari and Mercedes?
MW: I am not surprised. I know that Formula One goes in cycles of performance. I know Adrian (Newey) very well - and he is doing an excellent job at Red Bull, at a very well-funded team. If you take Sebastian (Vettel), he has made one mistake in Canada but that was it from his side. If you can qualify very well, as he can, you are in the quickest car, you are on pole position and you dont make any mistakes then you can hopefully win the race. We had two or three races where we had the quickest race car but we have not matched Red Bull in qualifying. Typically weve been the second-fastest car in qualifying, sometimes the third-fastest car, and sometimes fastest. We were deeply frustrated in Monaco - I think we should have won there - but we won the next race. Thats motor racing! Weve got two great race drivers and if we get them to the same position as Sebastian then I am sure they can beat Sebastian.
Q: What is going wrong with Lewis Hamilton? He has made some unwise manoeuvres on and off track and has been criticized for it
MW: Lets work backwards. I have known Lewis since he was 11. He is a phenomenal driver and a massively competitive individual. He is pretty hard on himself when he makes mistakes and very passionate about everything - not just his driving style. He definitely doesnt like being beaten so its been a very tough season so far. Hes been frustrated not being up there all the time and frankly some of it was simply down to misfortune. Inevitably the media have got on his back- hes too aggressive, hes too much of this and that, and then you have Niki Lauda and other people coming up with opinions and once that starts its like a snowball. I know that Lewis is strong and capable enough to drive through that, to stay focused, develop the car, win races and then people will forget, because there is nothing like winning races.
Q: Jenson Button in comparison seems to be a lot more low maintenance
MW: We must not forget that Jenson is older, has more experience and has experienced very tough times, so I think that his career has made him very rounded. Some people even say that he is too relaxed, but he demonstrated in Canada that he is there, he is determined and he wants to win desperately. Lewiss career has developed significantly differently. He broke into Formula One in 2007 and he was on the podium for his first nine races, which will probably never be equalled. He could have won the championship in his first year; he did win it in his second year; and could have won in the third year. So he has never really experienced such a situation as he is in now. But he is smart and he will learn. He knows that hes made some mistakes, but he is under massive scrutiny. And when you are under such a level of scrutiny and you get out of the car and are hot and frustrated, and let me be frank, some parts of the media are very sympathetic and understanding, but other media, when they see such vulnerability they want to come in and challenge it. They want to prompt and elicit a passionate response, which is good for headlines but not always good for Lewis. He is learning that sometimes he is better off holding back, biting his lip and not saying what he thinks. We know how it goes. You have one interview and you stay calm, then comes the second and third and your emotions are riding higher and higher and eventually you say something that you regret. That is what happened to Lewis this year.
Coming soon in Part Two, Whitmarsh and McLaren's take on the future of Formula One racing
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