Q&A: McLarens Jonathan Neale on upgrades and engine maps 25 Jul 2012
With updates aplenty, a rival team under scrutiny over engine mapping, unpredictable tyres, a changeable competitive order and the unruly nature of the weather so far this season, McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale had much to discuss during a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-In
Q: After having time to digest the weekend in Germany, what are the teams thought on your upgrade package? Do you now have a quicker car than Ferrari and Red Bull?
Jonathan Neale: In terms of the upgrade package, we are very pleased - wed like another one. Everything that we put on the car on Friday stayed on the car (for the rest of the weekend). I think that in the dry weather we were pleased. The race pace certainly enabled Jenson (Button) to stay in touch with the Red Bull and Ferraris. So on that day, on that circuit, in those conditions we were there or thereabouts. I dont think that we are dominant and we need to continue to work very hard. But were pleased with it.
Q: McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh was saying on Sunday that he believed that either Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton could win the championship. But Ferraris Fernando Alonso, after the first eight races of the year, was leading the standings in a car that averaged eighth in qualifying. He now has a car fighting at the front, so what hope is there for McLaren?
JN: By improving our car and our consistency, Id say. We are under no illusions about how hard we have to work. But also, there are still points still to come in this championship and we can get our drivers up there. Our qualifying in the wet (in Germany) was disappointing but in the race the drivers were able to contest. I was delighted for Jenson that he was able to claim second place and for the team as the car made a step forward. Its still a long season.
Q: Do you think that Alonso is your only challenger or are you still worried about the Red Bulls as well?
JN: Its undeniable that Fernando has driven really well this season. If you look at the point conversion rate of Red Bull then they are also really strong and we have to get in amongst that mix. I dont think Ferrari have a clear advantage over Red Bull at this stage.
Q: The early forecast suggest there may be wet race on Sunday in Hungary. Are you concerned about the cars pace in the wet conditions and how are you addressing that?
JN: You might have a better forecast than I do but the last one I saw suggested it would be wet up until Thursday, perhaps Friday. But I was hoping it was going to dry out through the rest of the weekend. Hungary can be unpredictable in terms of the weather. Certainly our performance in the wet in Q3 (in Germany) was a cause for concern for us. On Sunday we were still looking at that and thinking what we could have done differently. But with a dry tyre in Q1, an intermediate in Q2 and a wet tyre in Q3 youve got enough data to really have a good look at that. But I dont think anyone has really mastered these tyres and got consistency on them. Rain will be unpredictable for everyone. If you are asking me personally, Id prefer it to be dry.
Q: We believe the FIA will issue a clarification about Red Bulls engine mapping soon. Do you think that will have an impact on the competitive order?
JN: Thats a really interesting question and the answer is I really dont know. None of us really know what it is that antagonised the FIA so much to provoke Jo Bauer to send the note that he did on Sunday morning. It was a quite unusual step. I dont think the FIA would have referred it to the stewards if they didnt have very serious concerns. I have read the press like you have and there are lots of allusions to the fact that there might be some measures taken to stop it. Its really not for us to know. Its very hard to tell exactly what their engine is doing and how much advantage they get from it on their car as part of an integrated performance package. I know were not the only ones on the grid who are looking into this very carefully. I think weve all worked really hard for the first six months this year to work with the FIA and Charlie Whiting to get clear about whats permitted and what isnt. The FIA and Charlie have a difficult job there. I hope we dont get involved in rewriting regulations in the mid-season, as we did at Silverstone last year, because that created a reasonable amount of upset. However entertaining it was for the media, in terms of the sport consistency in regulations is good. I think there should be more effort put in enforcing the regulations rather than continually rewriting them.
Q: What do you think the competitive order is at the moment? There have been a lot of changes, so where do you think your cars stand compared to the competition? Are you expecting to lock out the front row this weekend?
JN: Are we expecting to? No. Hoping to? Of course. We believe weve got a competitive car. Weve been focusing a lot on our race pace because our qualifying pace has been stronger than our race pace. We believe both drivers have a good chance of being competitive and hopefully we can win this weekend. But its a very close grid, as you know, and thats notwithstanding whether the teams are able to exploit the conditions and the tyres. You dont need to bring much in order to change the order. Nobody at this stage is backing out and diverting resources to next year or the year after. I think were in for a very challenging race in Hungary and I suspect the rate of development will be strong throughout August until the middle of September as well. Theres still a lot to go. I dont think its static. The three top teams have got very competitive cars.
Q: So theres nothing to choose between the top three teams?
JN:Not based on the data I saw from Germany, no.
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