Q & A with McLaren's Jonathan Neale

After a disappointing European Grand Prix, McLaren is aiming to fight back this weekend at Silverstone

Q & A with McLaren's Jonathan Neale

AUTOSPORT heard from managing director Jonathan Neale about what went wrong in Valencia and how it will be rectified for this weekend.

Q. After the European Grand Prix, both of your drivers seemed rather pessimistic about Silverstone and suggested that the track might not suit McLaren's package. Ten days on, what reasons do they have to be optimistic?

Jonathan Neale: "I think we underperformed at Valencia, we didn't really get the car dialled in properly. We had single lap performance, as evidenced by the pace we showed on Saturday, but we couldn't get the tyres to last in the same way that both Ferrari and Red Bull did so we were disappointed by that.

"We understand the reasons why, and we've done something about it. It's not something I can talk about in any detail for obvious reasons, but actually there was learning to be had from Valencia.

"Coming into Silverstone of course a very different circuit - I mean Canada and Valencia have broadly similar aerodynamic characteristics - there'd be no reason for anybody to make a read on our performance on those circuits relative to Silverstone. We're really looking forward to Silverstone in the respect high speed circuit, two British world champions, like a home Grand Prix and there's a huge amount of excitement on the build up to it - as there was actually from the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

"We've got a range of upgrades for the car, the aerodynamic package will be improved but I guess the technical landscape will be pretty much dominated by what happens to everybody's car with the changes to the technical regulations on engine loads. Colleagues in other teams have been in the media talking and speculating about that.

"There is no doubt its going to affect all of the top teams; its definitely going to affect us, Red Bull have already said its definitely going to affect them, the key question is who is it going to affect most. I don't think we are really going to know that until Saturday afternoon, so I'm not going to speculate on that. It's certainly had quite a big impact on everybody.

"We've learned from the lessons of the past and we can fit that next time we come to a similar style of circuit. The guys should be optimistic because we have some great upgrades for this weekend.

Q. Based on what you just said, would you say that your performance in Valencia compared to the previous races was a blip and a temporary dip in form rather than a downward trend?

JN: "I would. I don't think we delivered to our full potential there, and therefore I'm certainly regarding it as a blip. Other teams certainly made some steps, but that's the nature of the sport - if you let your guard down for a moment in this game, then certainly at the top quarter of the grid the race for upgrades is fairly ferocious. Others nip at the heels of you so we paid a price for that, but I'm not in any way disheartened or dissuaded from our ability to be competitive in Silverstone.

Q. What are the realistic hopes you can for the title this season, considering no one in history has come from so far back in the championship?

JN: "I think certainly if you follow stats and history then the odds are short, but as you also know history is no predictor of future performance. There is still a long way in this season to go. Red Bull have had a dominant package but the only other team that has won a race has been us and we've won two of them, and we're fighting very hard for it. I think that the uncertainty that is raised by the recent engine regulation changes will make it really interesting this weekend and could open the season up.

"Certainly we are working very hard. The mindset here is to win races and we want this championship, and its way too early for us to be talking about defeat. The past is no prediction about the future - but the odds historically are short."

Q. You've taken two wins, and it's not hard to imagine you could have won in Spain and Monaco. Have you missed your best opportunities to beat Red Bull?

JN: "I think if anybody plots the underlying race and qualifying pace, you will see we are catching Red Bull. They still have had an advantage, certainly in qualifying, but they have been on record in the media as recognising that we have had a faster race car than them on a few races in the recent past, and we will continue to keep that pressure up. Certainly they have had a qualifying advantage, and that is the thing we need to work on much harder."

Q. Has Red Bull's dominance since the end of 2009 forced McLaren to change the way you respond to try and catch up?

JN: "I don't think as a result of Red Bull per se, but I do think that certainly you can't sit still in this sport and when you look back about what it takes to win over three or four decades then you certainly can't sit still in your organisation, your research and development programmes.

"I think certainly in the days in the past when we might have relied on Red Bull's lack of reliability to be something which we could capitalise on, then the guys have clearly made a step this year, but the development rate at the front of the grid with Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull has certainly in the last two to three years stepped up and when you couple with the resource restriction agreement that FOTA has rightly put in place to limit the budgets within Formula 1, we have to look at how productive, effective and smart we are. That's part of what makes Formula 1 so interesting."

Q. We've had all sorts of speculation about Lewis Hamilton's future with McLaren? How does that affect the team, and how key is keeping Lewis to the future ambitions of the team?

JN: "I don't want to be unduly dismissive of the press, but we are entering the silly season for drivers and there has been a lot of speculation about it. Of course I'm contractually bound not to be able to talk about or disclose any of the contractual content or issues in that, but we are on record that we would very much like Lewis to stay here as part of the team. He's a fantastic competitor and we love working with him.

"He is also said that he wants to stay here at the team, and I'm very hopeful that that is the way it washes out.

"In terms of how it affects the rest of the team, Lewis, Jenson, Pedro and the guys are in here, they eat at the restaurant with us, they sit at our desks, we climb in and out of cars and talk to each other and there's no difference. These guys are fighting very hard, and they have got the full force of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes sitting behind them. We want to see them on the podium. The future is the future, but right now they're here with us and we love working with these guys."

Q. How difficult has it been to adjust to this tightening of the regulations mid-season, and has it had an impact on your upgrade schedule?

JN: "Yes it has. Clearly when you develop the car around an underlying theme or some technology in the car, when that technology is modified by regulation it upsets the apple cart a bit. There's no single piece of the car that works in isolation, so if you affect one part of the car it often has a much wider impact. Certainly in terms of the balance of the cars in the top half of the grid this weekend everybody is going to find that a bit more of a challenge than it was.

"It has caused us some problems, and stopped some development programmes that would have been quite useful. History has taught us that we have to be reactive, and our research and development programmes can be swung round and re-emphasised and that's what we've done. We've had to cancel some programmes and it has sent us in a different direction, and I'm sure there are plenty of other twists and turns before the season is over."

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McLaren says European Grand Prix form was just a blip

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