Q & A with Martin Whitmarsh
|By Jonathan Noble||Tuesday, April 28th 2009, 14:50 GMT|
Q. Where do you feel McLaren is at now?
Martin Whitmarsh: We will make a decent step forward for Barcelona. I would be extremely delighted if that was a bigger step forward than some of the other teams, but they have had the luxury of more performance and we have literally, on a day by day basis, have been throwing things at the programme to try and improve performance - which you have to do if you want to catch up.
Q. Is there a danger that all the 12 tweaks you did for here, that the cupboard is bare?
MW: Yes, there is that danger. I happen to know that we have got some decent steps for Barcelona. If we had been content as a race team to have had extremely poor performance over the first four races and concentrate on a big development for Spain, then perhaps we could have made a bigger step forward. But it is a weakness and a strength that we are a race team and we throw everything at every weekend, and it is not in our make up or temperament to be occasionally that measured. Sometimes it gives you an overall development momentum to be improving race-by-race, but I acknowledge that approach can be detrimental in the longer term.
Q. How close do you think it was to getting a podium in Bahrain?
MW: I think it was very close. I think the critical part of the race was when Trulli, Vettel and Lewis were in close convoy. Lewis was able to keep up, very easily in fact, and we extended his range by saving fuel and at that point we hoped and believed we would be able to outrun Trulli. We knew that Vettel had more fuel, but we thought we could get past Trulli at the stop. I think they wisely saw that and I am sure they also saved fuel, because on our calculation they ran a couple of laps more than we expected them to, so that was a critical point. That was the point at which we could get by.
We knew in the final stint, of course, that Trulli would be switching to the option tyre and would actually have a substantial advantage. Frankly once we had played our cards, we went into engine conservation at the end, and I have got to say that we were tantalisingly close to the pace.
The fact is that we were not as quick as a Brawn, a Red Bull or a Toyota here, but we beat three of them. And that shows that Lewis did a fantastic job, and the engineers and strategists did a great job too.
Q. It must be a boost to the team considering where you started, and where Ferrari still are, you are way down the road now, aren't you?
MW: I am sure we are still number four, but I don't quite sense it in that way. I think it is a balance. We have to be pleased with the progress. If someone, in week 11 when we were 2.5 seconds off the pace, they had said well nurse it through the first four races and you can be the fourth in the constructors' table and beat one of every other car in the field, then I would have probably have snatched it. But as it happens I know the huge effort and work that has gone into the programme from all the engineers and everyone.
To go from Shanghai to here, to have 12 development performance updates on the car in those few days, albeit lots very small, I think they are a demonstration that we are fighting on a day-by-day basis.
So I am proud of what the team are doing, but I am mindful of the fact that in that approach it makes it more difficult to deliver the big package for Barcelona. And there are other teams, some of which have got the performance and some of which haven't, who have a more measured mentality of the flyaways are the flyaways, let's aim for the performance step for Spain.
So Barcelona was always going to be challenging. This is potentially a flattering circuit for us, so Barcelona is going to be an interesting challenge. I know we have a decent performance step for there, that is what we know at the moment, and we have a few more days to keep pushing hard on that.
Q. Considering the teams leading the championship are independents like Brawn and Red Bull, now we are into the development race would you expect the big teams like yourselves, Ferrari and BMW Sauber to start making inroads?
MW: I would very much like to say that is the case. But I think the competitive teams, their right strategy was to conserve a degree of their energy and concentrate on their performance upgrade for Barcelona. So I have to be realistic and say that there is a chance that while we have a reasonable step, there is a chance they will step away from us there for that reason, and the fact that it is a particularly tough circuit for us at the moment.
But we will see. As I've said, it is a strength and a weakness of this team. We are a race team and I think if you compare us to some of the other teams, like BMW, you can sense that we are a race team and we come here every weekend and we throw everything we can at it. A more measured corporate approach is maybe in the long term a bit better, I don't know. But it is a balance of having the momentum.
The team, you can feel it here, we feel better about ourselves and that helps the energy of the team and the motivation of the team. That is why I believe it is in our DNA to go battle it every weekend that we can.
Q. Is everything now pointing in the same direction at this team, after a difficult first few races?
MW: Amazingly, we have had all sorts of difficulties, as you know. One thing I am grateful for is just the massive support that I have had from everyone at the team, and the fact that it is very easy in times of challenge to sit back. Think of Lewis. He has at every stage of his career had a car, from karting all the way through, had a car that can go out and win that race.
In two years of F1 he had that as well, which is a very rare experience. We have not given him a car that in normal circumstances he can win the race, and that is a bit of mental readjustment for someone who gives as much as he does. I am, and the team is, incredibly grateful for Lewis's commitment and dedication to just getting stuck into it. And hopefully it will have been sweet to have a podium here, and we came close to it. That would have been just dessert. But we will battle on.
Q. You said in China when Ron Dennis announced that we was moving aside that the team had not had the best of relationships with the FIA in the past, and it was important you changed it for the future. You've had meetings with Alan Donnelly at various times over the past few weeks. Do you feel you have made inroad in that relationship?
MW: Yes. I think we have. We have been incredibly open and frank with the FIA. They have been helpful, and I hope we have a basis upon which we can have a strong relationship.
I think there are many ways that people have characterised our relationship with the FIA, but the KERS challenge is something this team has been very supportive of. And we work, Mercedes-Benz and ourselves, with the FIA on a number of issues very successfully. So it is characterised in very different ways, but overall we have got to have a good understanding that this is the nature of operating in this sport.
Q. Are you looking forward to really starting your season in Barcelona?
MW: We go to every race to try and win. It is a simple philosophy but it looks a bit difficult on occasion. But I think Barcelona is going to be a real challenge for us. We have got to be pleased with the progress we have made in the first four races, but we are under no illusions that Barcelona is going to be tough – a real challenge. Teams will make big steps forward, we will make a step forward, and hopefully our progress will continue.
No one will doubt that in the lead into the season, and during the season so far, we are the most improved team. But we started from a fairly low basis, as we had to improve. We will keep pushing and Barcelona, I would hope to believe, is going to be another step forward. But being realistic, it will be a very tough weekend for us.
Q. There was a big gap between the performance of Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton at this race. Why was that?
MW: I think there are a number of things. I think the weekend was poor because we made some development mistakes. We had a new front wing, and I think that between us, all of us involved, we did not adopt the new front wing with Heikki's car. So I personally think, and I have expressed this to the engineers, that we did not have the best engineering package for Heikki.
He missed going through to Q3 by hundredths of a second. We then decided to fuel him long and we decided to use the prime tyre for the longer stint at the beginning of the race, and I don't think anyone realised that the prime was going to be a second a lap slower. I think struggling for grip, I don't know what happened, at the start he lost a lot of place.
We could have pulled him in quicker, but when you have a heavy fuel load and sacrifice that strategy, then you are often caught nowhere. So I think there is a whole range of reasons, but as a team we can reflect it. Heikki has done a solid job in this team, we have a strong commitment to him, and I am sure we are going to see him competitive at the next race.