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F1 NEWS 

Q & A with McLaren's Jonathan Neale

In the last few races McLaren has gone from defending a championship lead to having to attack to catch up to Red Bull and Ferrari in the standings.

But as its managing director Jonathan Neale told the media in the team's latest teleconference, McLaren certainly does not see itself as an underdog and is pushing harder than ever to get back in front.

Q. Lewis Hamilton has had contact in last two races and retired, but the other drivers continued, is this a concern?

Jonathan NealeJonathan Neale: I don't think that we have a concern about either the reliability or the durability of the car. I think it's unfortunate that has happened and that Lewis has made contact. Obviously we're very disappointed about that and Lewis is very disappointed about that.

But I think Lewis is a force of nature. Given half an opportunity, he's going to race hard. That's what makes him the man that he is and why he's such a great racing driver, and why he is and will be successful. He's the kind of driver that if he's got the pace and you see him in your rear view mirror, he's going to come and have a go.

I think the fact of the matter in Singapore was that Lewis had got clear, had the line and grip and pace to stick. Had Mark [Webber] not made contact with him, he would've got clear away. I don't think there's any fault or problem with that. That's motorsport, on occasion there is contact. I don't think it's in Lewis's instinct to play a percentage game. But Lewis is a learning animal and he will take all of these things and weigh up the risks. But he's a great driver.

Q. Does he need a stronger car than others do?

JN: We don't design the car to have a Red Bull torpedo it amid-ships, no... That's not a part of the design preparation really. The fact is, the wheel broke, the tyre deflated and he was going nowhere. There's nothing fragile about the car. We've made some pretty good contacts with walls and cars and had the benefit of it. It's swings and roundabouts. Sometimes you get away with it in the hustle, sometimes you don't.

Q. On the basis of Singapore, McLaren appears to be the third force in the title fight behind Red Bull and Ferrari. How do you see it?

JN: Well, I don't see it like that. We knew from our performance in Hungary that we were going to have a bit of a challenge going into Singapore. When we locked out the second row of the grid, we thought that was fantastic. Had Lewis been able to get his way around Mark and make it stick, I think we'd be sitting here talking about a very different situation. The remaining four races are circuits where we feel we should be very competitive. Everybody is going to be pushing very hard and we're doing exactly the same. We expect to get in and win some of these races.

Q. Is there any concern that the focus on the 2010 title fight could cost the team in 2011?

JN: It's not something that we're worried about. We've done it before, where we've been deep into a championship and had to run with it, and it's the same for everybody else. We are pushing very hard, but we have also put resources into next year's car. It's a delicate balance. F1 is never limited by ideas, only the number of daylight hours and the number of people you've got. At this stage I'm not concerned that it's having a detrimental impact on next year. It does mean, though, that we have a very busy winter ahead.

Q. Jenson Button said in Singapore that a big upgrade had to be removed from the car after practice but that it would be back in Japan. Can you give more details about the upgrade, its impact and whether it will be used this weekend?

JN: I certainly hope all the upgrades make a big difference. We're taking a reasonable sized package to Japan, we've got front wing upgrades, we've got a new rear wing, there are some aerodynamic details and some of the engine modes. What we've got is a big test package for Friday. We'll be in a better position to say what we're going to run in anger [after practice]. Certainly we're taking everything that we took to Singapore, and some more, to Japan.

Q. Up to Singapore, Lewis was either leading or near the front of the championship so could defend an advantage. Now you have ground to make up. Does that mean a change of strategy - do you need to take more risks now?

JN: Not consciously. If there's any pressure or risk or extra effort, that tends to be going in at the factory and trackside in support of what the drivers are doing. We know that we've got two world champions here, both of them know how to race hard. We want to make sure that we try and take the workload as much as we can off them and try and let them focus on the race itself. The organisation is working really hard, but there will be no change in strategy. We'll go out to win each race, as we have done all this year.

Q. Do you still feel the destiny of the title is in your hands?

JN: I don't think it's ever in anybody's hands. I don't think any of the teams would say it's in their hands. Everybody will have a view. What we've got to do is keep shifting the odds in our favour by working tirelessly to ensure that the car is bulletproof reliable. The drivers have got to not make mistakes and hold their nerve. It could go any way at the moment and it's a tough one to call.

Q. Did the Singapore upgrades give you confidence? Did the new parts do what you'd hoped?

JN: Yeah, they were. Last time we were at a circuit with that characteristic, we were 1.7-1.8 seconds off the pace. Our race pace wasn't bad actually. I think the safety car bunched up the field a bit, which made us have to run longer on the option tyre than we would've liked, and we certainly saw a higher degree of degradation on those, which was a bit anomalous compared to the rest of the field. In the aftermath and analysis of that, we understand why that was.

Q. You've talked about substantial upgrades for this weekend. Would you normally choose to roll out all of these components at once, or are you taking a gamble because of the championship position?

JN: We're throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it. We will be pushing very hard. If we can pull a modification forwards, even if we've only got limited components, I'd rather have the drivers to have that fraction of a second in lap time, than delay until we've got a comfortable set of spares. We are running on the very lean edge of what we've got.

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