Q&A with McLarens Jonathan Neale 21 Sep 2011
There may just be six races left and a shortfall of 126 points to make up to leaders Red Bull in the constructors standings, but McLaren arent giving up on their 2011 title challenge just yet. In a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in, managing director Jonathan Neale discusses engines, his hopes for the remainder of the season, and the addition of outgoing Williams technical director Sam Michael to the teams staff for 2012
Q: Looking ahead to the new engine regulations, Red Bull have signed a kind of works deal with Renault, Ferrari have their own engines, Mercedes have their own engines, whilst McLaren have a Mercedes contract until 2015. Have you spoken to PURE or Cosworth or even looked into developing your own engines so that you can get the same bespoke engine development?
Jonathan Neale: Thats a good question, but the assumption that were not working as closely with Mercedes would be incorrect. We have had a long relationship with Mercedes Benz HighPerformanceEngines at Brixworth. We know the guys up there really well and were a good team. So we are working with them very closely ahead of 2014. Our job, as is theirs, is to make sure that Mercedes has the best engine on the grid and are the best prepared and most ready. I dont feel in any way that we are being disadvantaged or being held at arms length. I think that sometimes when people look at the McLaren Group as a whole - and the way that the road platform is developing - then I think in that domain there are lots of what-ifs and maybes. But we shouldnt confuse that with whats going on with the engine development programme. Our focus is very much around our engine department at Mercedes Benz, who do a first class job for us, and we expect to be an intimate and high performance partner for them.
Q: So have you been given a guarantee you will be on an equal footing with the Mercedes team?
JN: Its not a concern or an issue for us at all. The one thing that ourselves, Mercedes GP and Mercedes Benz HighPerformanceEngines want is for Mercedes to have the best engine in 2014. The fact that they can draw on technical contributions and know-how from their partners should only make them stronger.
Q: So youll be with Mercedes for the length of the contract?
JN: Well, Im not going to discuss the contractual terms but I can tell you that theres an absolute cast-iron guarantee that its our intention to stay with Mercedes Benz as we transition to the next generation of engines. They are our engine partner. We very much like working with them and want to do so for many years to come.
Q: At times this season McLaren have had the fastest car but theyve failed to capitalise on it. Where do you think it has gone wrong and do you plan to put systems in place so you enjoy a better 2012?
JN: You ask where things have gone wrong, but we have amassed a number of race wins in the championship and have put up a credible fight, which we will continue to do until the end of the season. Of course we would very much like to be where Sebastian Vettel finds himself at the moment and hats off to Adrian (Newey) and the (Red Bull) team, not only in terms of the raw pace of the car but also the consistency they have found. We always look to ourselves to do a better job and are looking to continue winning over the next six races. We have strength in the team, and we have made some changes. Formula One is about innovation and slick execution. You have to be good everywhere. I think there are lots of teams - ourselves included - who would look back at operational issues, reliability issues or racing incidents and think if only . Thats the nature of the sport. You have to roll with that - its the same every year. We are not in any way downbeat or anything other than determined to win races. We are also determined to start next year with a car thats quick and reliable from the outset.
Q: You mentioned operational issue and racing incidents - there have been quite a few of them this year. Do you go back and try and put plans in place to eradicate them?
JN: We do that every time there is any kind of incident, whether technical, operational, decision making, whatever it is... The after-action review process is very thorough and we always try to eliminate those things. But we have to remember that its not a case of being risk averse. Formula One - be it the engineering team, the operational team or the driver - is about pushing really hard and taking risks. Its very, very easy - as my colleagues in other teams will attest - to slip. We are dissatisfied if we are not winning.
Q: So its your intention to keep taking those risks going forward?
JN: Very much so.
Q: Is there a general acceptance at McLaren that Sebastian Vettel cant be caught in the title race?
JN: I feel pretty sure that Red Bull would be bitterly disappointed if they didnt win the championship, given the advantage they have at the moment. But there are six more races and six more opportunities to win, which is why we are here - winning races, as well as championships. And its too early to bail out completely. But of course the emphasis within the team is starting to move, out of necessity. With a long race season that goes on until the end of November, it is just not possible to put 100 percent of your resource on to the programme for this year without doing something for next year. But we have well proven processes inside the organisation that allow us to move resource next year. Despite the fact that our colleagues at Ferrari say that theyve stopped developing this years car, they know as do we that much of the development that we can do on this years car - the know-how - will be carried over to next years car. Its an evolution of the rules. If you look at various aspects of the car and look at it as a continuous research and development programme then its still very possible to get performance on this years car and generate know-how for next year. Those are the areas were focusing on now.
Q: It has been announced Sam Michael is to join McLarens ranks. What do you think hell bring to the team?
JN: Were really excited about being able to bring Sam to the team. I think as a sporting director he is going to help us with our trackside operations, and also hes someone with a wealth of experience in different roles to help the team at a senior management level. So well continue to help develop the car, develop the processes and also develop the team. I think Sam brings a host of know-how and capabilities which will make us better over the years to come.
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