Martin Whitmarsh Q&A: McLaren not dwelling on disappointment 23 May 2012
McLaren started 2012 full of verve, hopeful they had laid their troubled 2011 to rest and that that they could be the team to beat this year. Five races later and with just one victory chalked up, the British team are feeling frustrated by the challenge of the Pirelli tyres and their handful of pit-stop slipups. However disappointing its been, team principal Martin Whitmarsh is seeking solace in the openness of the season and is hoping McLarens luck could change at Monaco this weekend. He explains more in a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-In session
Q: Lewis Hamilton has taken a consistent approach to this season. How can he marry that up with winning?
Martin Whitmarsh: Hes been unlucky this year. I think that in many ways the last race was disappointing for the team, but I think Lewis can come away from that event - and I think he does - with a very strong feeling of what he has achieved this year. Through no fault of his own he had a very severe penalty levelled against him. Its very easy at a circuit like Barcelona, where overtaking is very difficult even with DRS, to be frustrated. To then be asked by the team to run a two-stop strategy because of the difficulty of getting through the field. And to ultimately finish the race with such controlled, measured tyre conservation, including going 31 more laps than any other driver on a tyre. He comes away with a feeling he has a car thats capable of getting on pole. He has the capability to be on the front row at every race. And hes driving with greater levels of maturity, control and discipline than perhaps we have seen before. So I think it was a fantastic drive and I dont think he, nor I, nor anyone in the team, nor anyone outside the team, believes hes lost his winning way. The drivers championship is wide open. He must consider himself to be a very strong candidate to win in Monaco, many more races, and this years championship.
Q: You have admitted that operational mistakes have been made and that youve been working on ways to improve that. Are they in the past now or are you concerned?
MW: Im confident that the issues that weve had so far have been dealt with and are in the past. Im mindful that under the pressure of trying to win in Formula One there are always things that can come and bite you. So we have to be vigilant, careful and cautious. You should never be complacent and say that you have solved everything - or that I am super confident that nothing will happen again this year. I think that would be foolish. But weve made a range of changes within the team in terms of process and personnel to deal with some issues. But everyone in this company is mindful of the fact that a small human error could cause some difficulty in the races.
Q: You said last year that you wanted Pirelli to challenge the teams and theyve done that. Do you think its gone too far in the wrong direction and that the tyres are having too much of an influence on the approach?
MW: A little bit, yes. But I dont want to be critical of Pirelli. If theyd made a benign and easy-to-use tyre then all of the teams, drivers, engineers would be much more comfortable in what they do really, but the fans and the show would have been detrimentally affected. As a team principal I can see some of the frustrations about how significant tyre performance has become and how challenging that is. But standing back from it, I think weve put on an extraordinary start to this season. Were 25 percent of the way through with every single race having a different constructor and a different driver winning. Its extraordinary. It will be very tough on us if it carries on over the next 15 races but its all there to play for. Giving predictions in Formula One is normally quite difficult but Ive never known over my 20 years in the sport it to be quite as challenging to know when you go to an event whether youre going to be competitive or not. So it causes some internal frustrations, but I think its great for the sport overall.
Q: Its been an extraordinary start to the season, but have you been frustrated?
MW: Im not slightly frustrated - Im very frustrated. Weve got a reasonable car and two great drivers, so looking back on it we should have had more success than weve had. Weve been competitive or thereabouts at most races. I think we were very uncompetitive in the race in Bahrain, but I think thats one of the challenges. Rather than focus on the frustration youve got to look forward to the opportunity. Either of our drivers could win the drivers championship and our team could definitely win the constructors title. We are only 25 percent of the way in and there are certainly other team principals who are thinking similarly. We are in a strong position to do so.
Q: Are the drivers frustrated?
MW: We all have moments of frustration and I think we have this year. But I think going to Monaco we are not going to dwell on the frustrations of what has been. We are going to look ahead at the opportunity. McLaren have won at Monaco 15 times. We know how to win there. Both of our drivers are good around the circuit. We stand a pretty good chance of having a victory there. But youre often millimetres away from disaster out on the track and you can be milliseconds away from disaster in the garage. So anything can happen, but we go there with a reasonable level of confidence that we can do a good job and could potentially be leading both championships next week.
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