Martin Whitmarsh Q&A: Well get the results we deserve 09 May 2012
The 2012 season started ever so well for McLaren. With pole position for Lewis Hamilton and victory for Jenson Button at the Melbourne opener, it seemed the British team had emerged from winter testing as the strongest title contenders. But then the trouble started. Hampered by tyres issues and pit-stop problems, the next three rounds saw McLaren beaten by Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh, however, remains confident in the pace of the MP4-27, and with a package of updates - including a new, higher nose - expected on the car in Barcelona this weekend, Whitmarsh is hopeful the team will be back to their winning ways in Spain. In a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session, he discusses tyres, testing, pit stops and more
Q: Mercedes Michael Schumacher has recently likened driving on the Pirelli tyres to racing on raw eggs. What is the perspective of your drivers?
Martin Whitmarsh: Well, theres no doubt that the tyres are a definite challenge within Formula One and they have added to the spectacle. Theres also no doubt that when a driver has had a bad race he will complain about them. But if they made tyres that were very robust and not challenging in terms of management from either the team or drivers perspective then Im sure the spectators will be critical of the tyres as they wont create the right spectacle. In summary, they are challenging and there have been times when they have certainly given up. The last race in Bahrain was certainly one of those times, where we werent in the right window of operation and that affected our performance in the race quite dramatically. But I think it would be wrong to criticise the tyre. I think youve got to look at you as a team and what the drivers are doing and look at how to manage the situation.
Q: You started the season very strongly, but in China and Bahrain things dropped off to varying degrees. Are you confident you have fully understood everything that was going on and that you can get back to where you were before?
MW: The great thing about this sport is that you can never be fully confident. I think weve had a car thats been able to get on the front row of the grid at each of the four races and therefore the pace is there. We havent got all the results we wanted and I just referred to the challenge in Bahrain. But I think I believe we will be competitive going forward. We dont know what the other teams are going to do. People are working hard to understand the tyres and the car and continuously develop it, but we know others will be doing the same. So you can never be confident you can understand everything going on and you can never be confident that the other teams wont up their game and give you a harder time. But theres a positive feeling within the team at the moment. We had an interesting data gathering test in Mugello.
Q: It looked like you were running a higher nose there towards the end of the Mugello test. Are we likely to see it again this weekend in Barcelona?
MW:You may well see it again, yes. Actually, if you look at the detail, the height of the front of the nose is one of the more minor pieces of the new front wing assembly. So theres a range of things. We gathered a lot of information. Its unusual at this stage for us to have an in-season test so we felt we had to use that to log some data. As you saw, there were all sorts of appendages and sensors etc. fitted to the cars to measure things.
Q: What benefits does the new front wing have?
MW:The situation nowadays in Formula One is that incremental improvements are generally modest. Typically youre looking at the aerodynamic performance through corners. So you log a lot of data. Classically, of course, youre looking for lower drag, higher downforce. In the case of the front wing and the nose, the attachment pylons, as you may have noticed, are quite a lot different. The wings flap and endplates themselves, its all subtle differences. Youre managing the airflow that is enjoyed by the rest of the car and the rest of the aerodynamic-generating surfaces and features of the car. Nowadays it is quite a critical part of the car, youre looking to find very small improvements. Theres a lot of restriction around the back end of the car. So you do more, often generating more performance, by managing the flow that arrives at them, than developing them themselves. We gathered a lot of data and have given our race engineers a lot of information. You will see it in Barcelona.
Q: Will we see it on Sunday then?
MW:Theres a reasonable chance youll see it on Sunday.
Q: Weve had a lot of headlines recently about lawsuits, protests, tyres and stock options. What has been the standout headline for yourself and for the team?
MW:I think the fact that there have been four winners and that it would have been impossible - not just at the start of the weekend but on the Sunday morning - to predict any of those winners is fantastic for the sport. Of course I would have preferred a straightforward McLaren dominance but its been very exciting. I certainly feel that were involved in one of the most interesting and intriguing championships. Formula One is producing a great show. For the doubters of KERS, DRS and the tyres, there have been hundreds of overtakes and this is in a sport that a few years ago people were saying there wasnt any overtaking. We have made subtle changes, DRS in particular, to the pinnacle of motorsport. A lot of people didnt like the idea. Given how close the racing is there its almost like youre obliged to drop your car into traffic and then your driver is obliged to overtake to make progress in the race. Thats what the sport should be about. So I think the standout thing is whats happened on the track and the exciting championship we have in prospect.
Q: Youve said set-up choices are crucial in Barcelona. Why is that and are you confident your team can judge whats needed perfectly, even if the forecast rain arrives on Sunday?
MW:We are competitive. We have two great racing drivers and a strong team. So if you are on the front row - which we hope to be - then youd rather it would be a dry and uneventful race. But I think for this sport the changeable conditions are a challenge and it is all part of the spectacle. So if it starts to rain as you go out to the grid, no one can be confident as anything can happen. Even if you dont make any mistakes you can still very easily get hit from behind in those conditions. You are never confident. I think it really throws an interesting and slightly random challenge into an event.
Q: The team have had some tricky pit stops recently. Have you made any changes for Barcelona?
MW:We have looked at what we are doing and have made some changes to the team and the process and well see them on Sunday in Barcelona - or you may see them on the earlier days if you are interested enough to watch pit-stop practice. I think theres enormous pressure on the guys. At a team like McLaren you are targeting a sub-three second stop. It a huge physical challenge. If youve held a wheel gun its really heavy and its not an easy task. Its being done on some very hot components with the eyes of hundreds of millions bearing down on your back. I am always in awe of the level of the volunteers we have. We have made some changes as you might expect following the last race. And I wondered whether wed have volunteers for some of the more critical elements, but I was astounded by how many guys in the team want to put themselves in that very challenging position. It reflects well on the spirit of the team. Theres been a reasonable amount of practice and well see at the weekend. I believe well have good stops.
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