Q & A with Martin Whitmarsh

McLaren enjoyed a dream Chinese Grand Prix, with Jenson Button scoring a superb second win of the season despite the very tricky conditions

Q & A with Martin Whitmarsh

With Button leading team-mate Lewis Hamilton home, it was McLaren's first one two since Martin Whitmarsh took over at the helm of the team.

AUTOSPORT heard from Whitmarsh after the race.

Q. This is the first 1-2 you've had since you became team principal at McLaren. How does that feel?

Martin Whitmarsh: It is. It is the first 1-2 in a while and the first all-Mercedes podium since Aintree in 1955, when a certain Stirling Moss beat Juan-Manuel Fangio. The Brits came out on top then too!

I just had a phone call from Norbert Haug. He is delighted and we've got a great partnership with Mercedes still, despite all the speculation, and I am very proud and pleased for the team and for Mercedes-Benz and our two really great drivers. To come away leading both championships after four races, when not everything has gone right, shows we have two great, great racing drivers and a tremendous team.

Q. How nervous were the closing stages of that race and how free were the pair to race each other?

MW: Very - and they were racing. The fact is they had worn out tyres and they were still quicker than anyone else. There were a number of discussions with me from people saying, shouldn't we tell them to stop racing now, and I felt we shouldn't. I felt that we had to let them race. It was clear that Lewis set off to try and close him down. In fairness they ran two different strategies and Lewis had to be given the opportunity. Those things can go horribly wrong, but they didn't. They are very sensible these two guys.

They have a tremendous amount of respect for one another and I felt that they were going to be sensible. Would it have been more comfortable to have cruised a bit at the end? It would have been, and I would have had a few less grey hairs. I think it was right, and it was right for the show. I think that was a race that from the lights out to the flag was exciting, and that is what it should be. That is how we live in this team - we try to go racing as a team and give both drivers the opportunity. I think the fact is, Jenson deserved that win today. If Lewis had caught him and passed him then Lewis would have deserved it. I think they did a great job.

Q. Was it a case of the individual race engineers making their own choices of tyres - for example when Lewis came in for inters later on?

MW: We have the ability to override decisions, but in these conditions I said to both drivers before the race - you guys are out there, it is going to be wet but you need to give us information. I think our job was to give them our estimates of intensity and duration of the race. Their job was to take an assessment of how they wanted to drive. We gave them a view and said, do you want to come in? Jenson said he would stay out for a bit and Lewis decided to come in. In these sorts of conditions, if you give the drivers the information they don't have, then they have more information than we have. I think they both played the right strategy for how they drive the race. That was evident - as they finished two second apart as they raced from lights out to the flag. And that is right.

Q. Lewis said that he was slightly confused by the call from the pits on lap two. Were you telling him to come in?

MW: He was given the opportunity and he felt it was right to come in. It was a team decision and I think if you look at the race as a whole, they ran different strategies but they ran right strategies for the pair of them. That is evidenced by the fact that they were so close at the end. Lewis did a fantastic job. He started this race weekend have made 20 competitive overtake moves - and now it must be 30. It is fantastic and amazing for F1.

Halfway through that race someone said to me we were only halfway through, and I couldn't believe it because it was just such a breathtaking spectacle. I said I couldn't believe that we would have to go through it all again - and then you realise that the intermediates were not going to last until the end and you had to make all that judgement and timing spot on - so it was pretty heart stopping. The closing phase of that race, we decided and I had agreed with the two race engineers, that the drivers could race. There were opinions that we should back off, but it was the right thing and the honest way to run that race.

Q. Jenson has surprised a lot of his critics in the first four races. Has he surprised you?

MW: I don't think so. It is not surprise. Jenson has done a fantastic job with the team, and I think he is a mature world champion with a lot of experience. He has had some tough times in his career and has clearly learned from it. How he has conducted himself in the team, how he has formed a relationship with Lewis, how he operates out on the track is just fantastic. Here we are, four races in and he has won two of them. No one who watched those races could say anything other than he thoroughly deserved to win them. They were driver wins - races where the driver had to make a difference and he did make the difference.

Q. There has been no race so far this season where you have had the out and out quickest car, but you are leading both championships. What does that say about your team?

MW: It is testament to the team and the drivers. I think here in qualifying we had the second fastest car. I think here we were slower still than Red Bull. I think we underperformed in qualifying and didn't make it easy for ourselves. We are a race team, I think we are not a bad race team. We don't always get it right, but we make decisions and we get on with it. We have two drivers who are great racers. They are part of the team and have made a massive contribution, and I think the team as a whole has worked together to try and get the maximum number of points we can.

Q. What do you need to do better to keep this advantage?

MW: We need to develop our car quicker than the others. I think Barcelona is a challenge. I am sure the teams are going to step up with upgrades on the car, and we have to push very hard to see if we can go there with a bigger step than the others. I think in racing we are closer to the Red Bulls. In qualifying we are still behind the Red Bull. They are the fastest in qualifying and this is a development race now. We have given ourselves the foundation at the flyaways, but we are back into Europe. We now have to really push hard and keep reliability, which you cannot take for granted, keep racing well and keep developing the car. If we do that we can win these championships. That is what we have got to try and do.

Q. Have you made any progress on the tyre front with Bernie Ecclestone?

MW: I think we are making some progress. We have some options and that is something we have got to work out.

Q. Will it be sorted by Barcelona?

MW: I hope it will be. We will see. At least we look like we are going to have some tyres next year. That is a pretty important one, and we now just have to decide how and where and who they are from.

Q. Have you made any progress in getting your team out of China?

MW: I hope so. McLaren committed this morning to a charter plane for Wednesday to fly to Spain. We were the first to commit to that and have said that if it is a big enough plane then anyone else can come on board. We took the flyer and said that if it is half empty then we will bear the premium, so as long as we have got our team on it then we are happy for it to be full. I think some teams were hesitating this morning but they are now jumping on board pretty quick. Hopefully, as Spain is about the only place you can fly into, we can get them into Spain on Wednesday and onto coaches for Santander or road route home.

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