Whitmarsh and Haug preview upcoming season As the build-up for the start of the 2007 Formula 1 World Championship intensifies, the following Q&As see the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Team Management members Martin Whitmarsh and Norbert Haug give their thoughts on the season ahead.
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula One, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes:
How have the team’s preparations for the start of the 2007 Formula 1 season been progressing?
“The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team’s preparations are still progressing and will be until the Thursday evening prior to the race. Track testing has now finished, we completed a significant amount of kilometres and achieved the highest average mileage per day of any of the new cars. As can be expected when testing there were some issues, but part of completing over 13,300kms with a new car is to find the limits on high mileage and inevitably you are going to break something at some point.
The important point is that during testing, we have continued to improve the performance of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-22. We were learning and finding improvements even on the last day before the cars departed, and we therefore will bring new components, set-ups and approaches to our Friday testing in Melbourne that we hope and believe will further improve the performance of the car.
In summary, we had an excellent launch of the new Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, we were reasonably good from the outset and have made steady progress, but we recognise that it is tremendously competitive season ahead of us. Winning races and world championships is never easy and this year is going to be no exception.”
How has the performance of the MP4-22 been in comparison with your competitors?
“It has been an unusual winter because of the teams self-regulated testing agreement, there has been much more testing together with the principal teams, in fact all of the teams, and therefore we’ve had the possibility to assess your competitive performance to a greater extent than we’ve had in the past in any season of Formula 1. Typically, however, looking at the times at the end of a session is a misleading process. We generally have reviewed where we were running in our programme and felt that we were reasonably competitive. Whether we are or we aren’t we will know shortly, whether we’ve been or haven’t been on the test track doesn’t matter, all that matters is how we perform in Australia and henceforth in the remaining 16 races.”
The MP4-22 has completed over 13,300kms on the test track, what has the team learnt about the car and how has it developed since the launch in January?
“Much of the learning with the MP4-22 we inevitably want to keep to ourselves, but the car is responding to development changes in the way that our tools of analysis tell us it should, which is positive. We know that we have to continue to improve as the year goes on, however we’ve developed a strong understanding of the car and created a list of development priorities. Overall, we’re going to the first race with possibly more knowledge about this car than we have ever had going into the first race of a season. We launched the car when we intended to, we very quickly had two cars available, we’ve completed good mileage and the overall reliability has allowed us to make good progress.”
How has the relationship with Bridgestone progressed?
“The organisation and the key technical people are the same as we worked with before and the team is enjoying its renewed Partnership. There is clearly a view that teams that have been running Bridgestone in previous years are advantaged, in truth Bridgestone have done a very competent job for all the teams. In terms of tyre consistency and their characteristic, that has been developed and we do not feel disadvantaged in any way.”
There has been positive talk in parts of the media regarding the pre-season performance of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, what are you thoughts on this?
“I hope that anyone from outside the team that thinks we will win the championship this year are sincere and of course we hope they are correct!
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is not going into the first race with that assumption, however our target is to win the championship and we will be disappointed if we don’t’ do that. This is nothing new however, this is how we approach all seasons.
We are of the belief that we are going to be strong, but we are certainly not being complacent and we are not underestimating any of the other teams. None of the hype matters, we’ve got two very enthusiastic race drivers and a very strong team and we think a competent car, those are the raw ingredients, we’ve got to make that all come together and push hard to develop the car sufficiently to realise our objectives.”
What are the team’s expectations for the 2007 season?
“We expect to be competing, to win races and our ultimate goal is to win World Championships.”
How are the drivers getting along?
“The team has been working very well with our two new race drivers and our two very established test drivers. Fernando, Lewis, Pedro and Gary are working more closely than we have experienced in the team for some time and there is a good spirit of cooperation between them all. The drivers are all motivated and very strong team players. That perhaps sounds derogatory in respect of previous drivers, but it is not. We have been privileged to have some great drivers in the team over the last few years. Sometimes it is right to move on and find new motivation and these drivers are providing that to everyone within Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.”
How has Fernando settled into the team and how do you feel his season will pan out?
“It was clear before Fernando arrived that he is an enormously talented race driver. He has enormous focus, commitment and intelligence; these facets of his character have only been accentuated to us since he arrived at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes by the experience of working with him. Having someone who has come from a competitive environment into the team is always useful, as he can give a relatively independent benchmark about the technology, the car, the processes and the manner in which we set about trying to win. Despite the size of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, we are open to learning and we know that we have learnt things from Fernando’s approach, and we hope this process will continue through the season.
There are many people within the team who have worked with World Championship before, but what is more significant with Fernando is when you look into his eyes and see he has confidence, belief and the look of someone who is going to win more World Championships. That is tremendously exciting.”
How long is the team planning to give Lewis to acclimatise to the sport and start getting results?
“Lewis is an enthusiastic racing driver who wants to start winning as quickly as he can. Whilst we want to moderate the expectations that Lewis himself and others will place on him, we know that someone as ambitious, focused and talented as Lewis will have a small part of him that wants to win in the first race, if they fail then the second and so on. Providing they are balanced then these are the right emotions to have. However the most important thing is that he demonstrates the ability to learn and develop during the season. Whatever he does in the first race, we want his performance to get progressively stronger as the season goes on.
When you look back at his five years in single seater car racing, Lewis has dominated and won the championship in three of those, which is an astounding record and inevitably what people focus on. In two of the years he had to learn his way and develop and these were enormously valuable seasons for him, particularly from a mental perspective given the hype and expectation that has surrounded Lewis. He has always dealt with it and come through strong, so he has had to deal with much more pressure than some of his contemporaries. He has been in challenging situations, where he hasn’t been happy with his performance, he has dealt with that and come through it. Whilst Lewis, I’m sure is expecting of himself a very strong showing in the first races of his Formula 1 career, if it happens great, if it doesn’t he has the experience to cope with it and we are in this with him for the long term.”
Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport:
Are you happy that the Formula 1 season is starting once again at Albert Park and what do you particularly like about Melbourne?
“With the unique atmosphere and the enthusiastic crowd, the Australian Grand Prix is a highlight of the season right at the beginning. The race in Melbourne will always be a special one for us. This year sees the tenth anniversary of the first victory of the McLaren-Mercedes partnership. We all will always remember the 9th March 1997 with great pleasure.”
The Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes MP4-22 has shown consistently strong form during pre-season testing. Now those tests are over, what does the team expect from the technical package in Melbourne?
“Since we began the test programme on 17th January, the new MP4-22 powered by this year’s Mercedes-Benz engine has been running reliably most of the time, setting competitive lap times and completing consistent long runs. During the course of seven tests on 19 days since January, Fernando completed 14 and a half test days, Lewis 12 and Pedro nine and a half days, and they have covered a distance of more than 13,300 kilometres, which is an average of 370 kilometres per day and car, and this indicates the good reliability. All team members have worked hard over the past weeks and months to achieve the targets we aim for and to make it possible for us to race among the front-runners in 2007.”
What specific technical challenge does Melbourne require of a Formula 1 engine?
“The Albert Park circuit is very demanding for the engines. About 70 percent of a lap time here will be run under full throttle; this means almost three quarters of a lap. It will be interesting to see how the different engines, which have been homologated for four years, will stand the test in the first race.”
Which problems did you have to solve prior to the new season because of the new engine regulations?
“The new rules require an rpm limit of 19,000/min. As the Mercedes-Benz V8 Formula 1 engine was the highest revving engine in the field last year reaching 20,000/min, we had to modify it within the measures allowed by the FIA regulations. Our engineers had to finish this by 15th December 2006. Before we delivered the homologated engine to the FIA on 1st March, we made necessary modifications mainly to the combustion chamber, inlet and exhaust ports and the pistons to match the rpm limit. The engineers and technicians at Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines in Brixworth and their colleagues in Stuttgart worked very hard over the past six months, to deliver the best possible engine specification together with all engine parts in time for the homologation on 1st March. This was a competition away from the circuit which was more intense than we had ever experienced before.”
How many engines will Mercedes-Benz bring to the Australian Grand Prix?
“We will bring eight engines to Australia; three of them will already be installed in the two race cars and the T-car. The race cars’ engines will be changed after Friday’s Free Practice and replaced by engines, which will be used on both race weekends in Melbourne and Sepang.”
What do you think of the new driver line-up with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton?
“Both drivers are extraordinary people with a positive attitude. Fernando is without a doubt not only an excellent driver, but is also able to motivate everybody in the team. Lewis has already impressed everybody with his speed and his great ability to learn. The combination of all these good qualities makes a strong driver line-up, which is also the youngest in the 2007 field.” Source McLaren