Q & A with Martin Whitmarsh
|By Jonathan Noble||Monday, October 20th 2008, 13:53 GMT|
Q. McLaren had the advantage at Shanghai after things seemed pretty even at Fuji. What is your explanation?
Martin Whitmarsh: "Well, I wish I knew that one. The reality is that we ran conservative fuel loads on Friday and Saturday and we were, in our estimation, quite dominant through those - and Lewis has was dominant all weekend. In the race itself, Lewis was driving very much in himself, conserving the car and making sure he did not make any mistakes.
"Once we realised we had opened the buffer, we had to run longer in the second stop and we consciously stopped early to make sure we didn't get caught out with a safety car. We had enough of a gap on Raikkonen at the time to be able to stop early relative to him. And Lewis did a fantastic job. He opened up the gap at the beginning and controlled his pace and controlled his race thereafter."
Q. What role did the tyres play here? We had the hard and the medium, which are traditionally better for McLaren. Is there any importance in that?
MW: "I think it is quite a hard circuit. No one is disputing they are the right tyres for this circuit and I think it was clear on Friday that we would expect ordinarily to get temperature into the tyres. There was evidence of that early in the weekend that we could get the first lap out of the prime.
"When we got onto the option we thought we would give it quite a hard time, but the option was pretty good. We could get the first lap out of it and the long runs on Friday were very good as well with relatively good degradation, so I think we were quite good on the tyres. It was a reasonably difficult call to take a preferential view for the race."
Q. Ferrari played the game that Kimi Raikkonen let Felipe Massa past. Is that what you would have done if it had been Lewis and Heikki?
MW: "The reality is you have to ask them what they did. As you know there is an issue of team orders in F1, so they can comment on what happened there. We have got to make sure that we are cautious in what we do. We have to make sure that we don't make any mistakes between now and the end of the season."
Q. So no complaints from your side?
MW: "No, we are not making an issue of it. I think the others have to take a view on what is right. That is all I can say on the matter."
Q. You have increased your championship advantage in one battle (drivers') and fallen back in another (constructors'). Which one for you is more important?
MW: "I think the reality is that we want to win the world championship. The question of whether the drivers' is more important than the constructors', the reality is that whatever a team says about the importance of the constructors' championship, the drivers' is one we always remember.
"We want to make Lewis Hamilton the world champion this year. We would like to win both. As you say, we have strengthened the position in the drivers' championship, but the constructors' championship was a bad day for us. It is doable but we need a pretty special result in Brazil. That is what we will be trying to do."
Q. How comfortable is it having a seven-point gap in the championship, as it means the matter is out of Ferrari's hands?
MW: "It is out of their hands, it is up to us now. But it is very easy not to finish a grand prix. And, no one is going to go and beat Ferrari in Brazil. It is not a super comfortable position, but it is not a bad position going into the last grand prix.
"I think the way Lewis conducted himself over the course of this weekend - he had a lot of criticism flowing from last weekend and he answered that. He was totally mature, he was driving within himself and that is how you win championships. He did a great job."
Q. You have talked about bringing an extraordinary development package for Brazil. What is it?
MW: "Well, ordinarily given the pressures you have on the resources of the company you choose whether you want to use some of those resources developing a performance package. I don't know what it will be at the moment because we are working on it. It may be nothing, but we have put the effort into primarily an aerodynamic package to enhance the efficiency of the car. And hopefully that is delivering while we have been away, and if it is we will have it on the car."
Q. Last year, Lewis went into Brazil seven points ahead of the leading Ferrari driver, just as now. How are the pressures and challenges different this season compared to last season?
MW: "I think they are the same, aren't they? Lewis has, and I shouldn't say it, in terms of reliability issues there is clearly pressure. It is there to win the championship and under normal events, unless something goes wrong for us, we should be able to win the championship.
"But things can go wrong. We still have to do that. Winning F1 races is not an easy task but clearly Felipe will be on home ground, I am sure he will have a fair bit of support there, and we have to make sure that we score a minimum of four points.
"But you have to be careful in any sport. If you operate too far away from trying to be competitive you make mistakes. It sounds easy just trotting out there and getting four points. It is well within our capability of doing that, and frankly it is well within our capability of winning the race as well, but if we don't finish then the likelihood is Felipe will have an opportunity to win the race. I imagine he will be able to beat Kimi out there."
Q. What happened to Heikki's tyre?
MW: "It was a cut on the inner wall of his tyre. So it was a concern how heavy he had cut it. I imagine he ran over some debris. He did it at the last corner and in fact we knew before him. He sensed something but it was picked up on the data very quickly. Unfortunately he had just come around the last corner. He did well to bring the car back under those circumstances."
Q. Lewis is going into Brazil with a second race for his engine. Is that a concern and was any consideration given at Fuji for giving him a new power-unit there?
MW: "I think generally our engines have been reliable and we have to have confidence in that. We turned the engine down quite a lot towards the end to conserve it. We have got a bit of life in that engine, but F1 engines are heavily stressed so you can have infant mortality, or at any point. We have to believe in ourselves, believe we had a reliable package and get our job done."
Q. The tyre compound selection for Brazil has shifted one step harder compared to last season. Is that something that will benefit you more than Ferrari, judging by the way to teams have used their tyres this year?
MW: "I think as this season has gone on, the differences between ours and Ferrari's use of the tyres has actually diminished in my opinion. I would love to be saying it will give a benefit to us, but I don't think there is much difference now. I think we were, at the beginning of the year, stronger at getting temperature and using the harder tyres, and we were weaker in regards to degradation of the tyres.
"I think we have worked on improving our game in that area and Ferrari have worked on getting the temperature into the tyres. I don't think there is any great difference there – we cannot rely on those sorts of things. We have to concentrate on our job and try not to make any mistakes, do a solid job and try and win the world championship."
Q. Lewis arrived in China after a fair bit of criticism following Fuji. There were also various driver criticisms about his on-track tactics. How did he cope with the situation?
MW: "I think you have to say that the whole weekend he just got on and dominated every session, so I don't think he was unduly affected by it. I had several drivers come to me to say that they didn't really say what was reported and it was taken out of context. You learn in this industry and in these situations, if you are at the top of your game people are going to be more critical of you. That goes with the territory. It is the same for this team – if we stumble as a team then we will probably get panned to a much greater extent that some of the smaller teams. But on balance I would rather have that than the other."
Q. Are you confident Lewis's car will be reliable in Brazil?
MW: "No, I think the reality is that we strive to have reliability in every race. We are working very hard and I think if you deviate from your normal working practices you can go horribly wrong. So we do everything we can. A DNF in the first race has potentially the same consequences on the championship as a DNF in the last race. So clearly there is a tremendous amount of focus on what is going to happen in Brazil, but we have made some mistakes before and we have to make sure we don't make mistakes any more."
Q. Will the focus on reliability increase after last year, when Lewis had a gearbox problem?
MW: "The reality is that an F1 car is complex, the operation of them is complex and you learn something all the time. So just as we are trying to enhance performance on a daily, even hour by hour basis, we are learning about operational errors and mistakes. You learn from them and you hopefully improve the process, you improve the procedures, to reduce the likelihood of those sort of failures in the future."
Q. Why were you so dominant in this race?
MW: "I wish I knew the answer and I could try and be smart about it. But the truth is we just try and be as quick as we can and occasionally when you do that you are quicker than everyone else. Lewis was absolutely determined to put away the demons from last weekend, he came here and dominated every session.
"We ran conservative fuel loads, we knew we were quick and competitive and I think Ferrari were not quite as strong as they would want to be here. The differences, at the end of the day, are relatively small between being as strong and dominant, and being third and fourth.
"Ferrari are still great competitors. There will be enormous pressure on them, on Felipe and ourselves, to make sure that we do not make any mistakes. We are going into Brazil with a seven point lead, but we know what can go wrong. We have to make sure that we don't make any mistakes."
Q. Was the difference between here and Fuji down to the tyres?
MW: "I don't think so. I think the difference between our use and Ferrari's use of tyres is actually pretty small now. I think the nature of the circuit, we had a good setup right from the start. We had a confident driver, and I think he dialled that in and did a very competitive job for us."