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Q and A with McLaren’s Ron Dennis

Ron Dennis

After being stripped of all constructors points and then losing the drivers title to Ferrari in the final race here at Brazil on Sunday afternoon, no one would blame McLaren team boss Ron Dennis if he wasn’t feeling the happiest at the present time. However, he is dealing with the situation quite well as he explained to the team’s official website.

Ron, your reaction to Sunday’s race?
The team has done a great job this year in very difficult circumstances. If you look back over the season both Fernando and Lewis have enjoyed phenomenal reliability, unfortunately, this is the first time Lewis has had a problem in a race that’s cost him time.

Ron, can explain what happened to Lewis’s car?
We don’t quite know the exact cause of the problem yet. However, we can tell you that the result of this problem caused the gearbox system to go into default – to select neutral. This was probably caused by an incorrect command given to the system box. At this stage we do not know why the system received an incorrect command - it could be a sensor. When it defaulted it took a while to mentally recover and then the box worked perfectly after that.

Can you explain how Lewis lost time?
Two incidents happened - Lewis had a small off, which caused him to drop from fourth to eighth. Then he fought back to sixth position before the system problem happened – that caused a 30 second loss of time, so put him 33 seconds behind Fernando. The most important thing to appreciate is not so much the time, but actually the fact that he’s then eighteenth with a quantity of cars in front of him. People are very quick to criticize the strategy, but the simple headline is that Fernando, who executed in our opinion a perfect two stop strategy, was 33 seconds ahead of him when we chose to switch strategies and at the end of the race he was 20 seconds ahead of him, so that’s 33 seconds versus 20 seconds, so we think the strategy made up between 10 and 15 seconds. The reason that he was able to make up the time was because he was constantly fed back into the circuit in clear air or with slower cars that he could easily overtake because of the fact that he was carrying less fuel and that his tires were in better condition. We were also nursing the engine temperatures and we had to just be a little careful that we didn’t over-stress the engine so we lost a little bit of pace by turning the revs down occasionally, but and I stress, I don’t think it was in any shape or form that made a difference to the outcome.

Was it driver error going into lap 4?
No, there was nothing Lewis did that had any relevance to the gearbox. He was able to analyze the data and then actually decide how to contribute to the computer basically resetting itself so it was a pretty speedy reaction. We realized that instead of calling for an upshift he needed to depress the clutch and call for a downshift but that’s not his problem, it was our ability to see what would actually re-set this condition. When you’re looking at a phenomenal amount of data coming forward off the computers, I don’t think that you can be severe on our engineers, I mean from the fault first developing to realizing what was muddling the computer’s brain to actually say OK pull the clutch in and select a down gear, that was a pretty speedy action and not one that I don’t think you could say was intuitive for the driver, it needed to be understood by the engineers.

What do you say to those who are criticizing the strategy?
Everybody is disappointed, but I encourage people to step back from this race and look at the season as a whole, we’ve had phenomenal reliability, our cars have, from a mechanical standpoint, not failed at all during the races. Of course, we’ve had a couple of small practice problems, but I don’t think we can be criticized for that. All the data, which if you want the detail I’m very happy to give it to you, all the data supports that switching the strategy was the right thing to do. Of course there are a lot of armchair experts out there, but the maths are absolutely simple, 33 seconds at the point at which he had his problem and 20 something seconds at the end of the race - this is the gap to Fernando and Fernando did a very competent two-stop strategy so we know very well that we shouldn’t be punishing ourselves in that area.

Your tires didn’t hold up as well as the red cars. Any explanation for that?
If you’re lying first and second you can basically control your tire wear in a much better way because you’re not running in dirty air and coping with understeer and oversteer. On the third stint, which was our longest stint on the prime tires, we actually wore the front tires through to the canvas, so going longer was just not a practical proposition. Again, if you’re in dirty air and you’re overtaking cars you’re loading your tires a lot more, so not a criticism of Bridgestone, it was just the position we found ourselves in.

How do you think Lewis has coped with the disappointment of this last race?
I’ve just total admiration for his ability to have such a positive attitude and look at the season as a whole, as has Anthony, his father. You know I’m a fighter and I am here to win, the whole team is, so it’s not easy to walk away without winning the World Championship. It was so close, so nearly in our grasp, especially over the last two races, but we’ve won a lot of races in very difficult and pressurized circumstances so you know we’ll look to the positive, relax a bit this evening enjoy the positive moments of this season and then get on with next year - in a couple of days time.

Was losing the Championship a kick in the teeth?
A kick in the teeth is the wrong expression because that imparts a belief that someone did something to us and no, no-one’s done anything. We basically did it to ourselves; we didn’t have the perfection that we were striving for - total reliability. Fernando has not had one single mechanical problem in a Grand Prix, that’s a fact. Lewis had a problem today, but apart from this problem in Brazil I don’t know anyone else in the pit lane who could say that they have had no reliability problems through the season. It’s just a costly problem at the worst possible time.

Do you compare Fernando and Lewis with Prost and Senna?
No, things are different. I mean the Prost and Senna era had completely different challenges. As I have said before, there is an unnecessary amount of pressure coming from the internet. It is an uncontrolled, unedited, source of information that is fed into the media, and while I am not criticizing the media, the internet makes it so hard because everything is instantaneous. You find yourself spending too much time trying to correct the inaccuracies that come into the system. This pressure has had nothing to do with our problem today; it just highlights the different challenges we face in this day and age. The team has resisted the pressure very well throughout the season and I wouldn’t put any of our on circuit problems, be it testing or racing or practice, against that.

Do you see any problems for next season – on track and with the drivers?
I do not see any problems. We will just work hard. If any problems come along then we will just work our way through it – that is our style. The issue of the drivers is an issue that we’ll address after the end of the season.

Are you glad this season is over?
No, I’m not glad that it’s over with the lack of the World Championship. But a few days will help the bruising go down. At the end of the day it’s been a great season and Fernando and Lewis have both got good results. It’s just disappointing that neither of them have won the World Championship.

This year we were talking a lot of time about fair play. Let’s talk about the second pit stop of Kimi Raikkonen, they switched positions, from your point of view is this ok?
Of course, this is what a team has to do to win a world championship, there’s nothing wrong with it, we would have considered similar strategies in similar situations.

Ron, what more can you say?
That’s motor racing, when you go for a world championship it’s the sum of all the races. We have to be sportsmen in defeat and that’s what we’ll be.

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