Jonathan Neale Q&A: McLaren can win in Montreal 07 Jun 2012
The high of Jenson Buttons Melbourne win is now just distant memory and in recent months McLarens hopes for 2012 have slipped further and further off the rails thanks to some embarrassing operational mistakes and the improved form of their rivals. However, with the British team boasting an excellent track record in Canada, managing director Jonathan Neale is confident they could regain their championship footing this weekend. In a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-In session Neale discusses their recent struggles and his hopes for Montreal
Q: McLaren have recently scored their first win with their MP4-12C sports car. Will this weekend see Lewis Hamilton score his first win of the year? What needs to change for this to happen?
Jonathan Neale: Im delighted for our colleagues in the GT formula. GT racing is traditionally very close and I know that the Hexis team have been working closely with us not just on outright pace but also on reliability. Theres been a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes to bring in further upgrades and supporting that whole project is very important for us. But youre right the whole focus this weekend is going to be dominated by our Formula One programme. We are very much looking forward to be going to Montreal. Six different drivers and five different constructors winning races just shows how close and challenging it is at the top, from an underlying car performance perspective, reliability wise and in keeping the tyres in the sweet spot. Lewis has certainly demonstrated on several occasions just how potent he is this year and how determined he is to win. The fact he was on pole position in Spain by in excess of half a second demonstrates his performance in the car. And we go to Canada this weekend with the intent to put both of our drivers into a position to fight for a win and were hopeful of that.
Q: Hamilton mentioned after the last race that McLaren seemed to be moving back in the pecking order. Do you agree?
JN: Weve made some operational mistakes in Bahrain and Spain and obviously we need to eliminate those. In Formula One, you make the slightest slip and you pay a heavy price for it, but thats why we love the sport. You have to be good at everything. The car definitely has the pace and the upgrades are coming through thick and fast. But it is very tight. Youre only looking at a tenth or two and you can move a lot of places during qualifying. Weve seen Jenson being very unlucky or not quite getting the car into the right spot during the last two races. On the one hand it makes Formula One very exciting for everyone whos a fan of the sport. So if you just like to see good racing then its terrific. If youre a managing director of a Formula One team then its a different game altogether. Weve got to be more consistent. But Im confident the pace is there and well continue to push hard with our upgrade packages.
Q: Your operational issues have been well documented. You brought Sam Michael in at the end of last year - what effect has this had on the team and what can we expect to see as a result of his influence over the next couple of races?
JN: Sam is settling into a very different role from his previous one and hes doing a very good job. Hes spending most of his times looking at operational excellence and also sporting decision support during the race weekends helping Martin (Whitmarsh) on the frontline. In Formula One, when youve put the car on the front row or on pole position, any operational mistake is incredibly painful and costly. But anyone who is actually doing the maths and charting where the quickest stop times are coming from, youll see that we are consistently improving and will improve again during the course of this weekend. Also, on our launches, weve been consistently one of the best cars off the grid. With the benefit of data hindsight and after cooling down post-Monaco we can see what Fernando Alonso did in taking 2.9 seconds out of us during his in-lap for his pit stop more than dominated any time lost in a pit stop. That said we must not be complacent. We have made errors and weve put them behind us and moved on. We are continually modifying the car and our training to eliminate these operational mistakes. But they are split-second decisions.
Q: Hamilton is making a decision about his future at the moment. How concerned are you that these operational issues may play on his mind and affect that decision?
JN: I wouldnt put the last two or three races into a professional like Lewiss mind in terms of where hes going to be comfortable in the future. We would like Lewis to continue racing for us. We have plenty of time. We dont need to make that decision until much later this year. You have to judge the performance of the team in the long term relative to other teams and we stand fairly well placed. But Im not going to walk away from the fact that we have to continue to work hard to eliminate mistakes and find the upgrades and performance. Six races and six different winners - nobodys consistent at the moment. We want to make both drivers comfortable in the car so we can consistently score high levels of points. We havent done that over the last few races but Im confident we can do that in the races coming up.
Q: Hamilton has a fantastic record in Canada - so how do you rate his chances for this weekend? Also, Button has struggled in qualifying - have you managed to work out whats going wrong and where hes losing time?
JN: We are clearly hoping Canada isnt as incident filled as last years race. It was a great result for Jenson in the end of course, but Id like it to be a bit more straightforward than that. Both drivers have a car underneath them that can win this race if we can get the tyres consistently into the sweet spot. Weve seen Jenson be very quick on Friday so hes doing a great job. Together with the engineers we need to consistently translate that pace from Friday into Saturday. Were not that far away from doing that. Monaco is a very unique event and I wouldnt read too much into that. Jenson will be on strong form this weekend.
Q: On the Monday after Monaco the FIA met with the teams to discuss cost cutting. Is there any information from those meetings that you could share with us?
JN: I wasnt at the meeting, but its true that the teams are trying hard to ensure the sustainability and the good health of Formula One going forwards. This isnt just for the teams but also for the fans and the engine manufacturers. The progress thats been made over the last few years for agreements such as the Resource Restriction Agreement have gone a long way towards achieving this. Its right that we stand on the cusp of changing the regulations. Its continually under review and its right were in health for the next five years. So there are broad discussions going on at the moment but everything still has to go through the proper channels and be agreed by all the teams. I cant comment more than that.
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