Q&A: Martin Whitmarsh
CEO Martin Whitmarsh talks about McLaren's British GP from Heikki Kovalainen's pole to Lewis Hamilton's win.
Q: That was an exciting race and Lewis's calmness under pressure was particularly impressive?
MW: I can't emphasize enough just how cool and collected Lewis stayed during the race. He was under immense pressure not only to get a result but also not to make a mistake - in some of the trickiest conditions he has ever driven in. That he managed to do so with such calmness and presence of mind is astounding - over the radio, it sounded as if Lewis was on a quiet Sunday drive - he was relaxed and calm; nothing seemed too difficult for him. After the first stop, we were aware of the situation with Kimi's tires and duly informed Lewis. and even before his second stop we urged him to look after the car and measure his pace as a precaution in the weather conditions. We even recommended he ease his pace into the closing laps and he came back on the radio and told us he was already driving as slowly as he could!"
Q: The weather kept changing throughout the race, what was the value of weather forecasting?
MW: Obviously, in situations like these we keep an extremely close eye on the weather forecast. We use a number of different sources to give us the clearest indication of any approaching weather fronts. At the beginning of the race, we knew it was going to stop raining shortly before the start but that there would be a light shower at 1.00pm which had a 50:50 chance of hitting the circuit. We also knew there was heavier rain forecast for the middle sector of the race, and it was fortunate that the heaviest rain showers were only brief. That coincided with one of the busiest and most chaotic sectors of the race as many drivers struggled to cope with the standing water. Just before Lewis's second stop, he actually questioned over the radio whether it was worth switching to extremes and we reassured him that our weather forecast was predicting the rain would clear up. Happily that proved to be right and kept the wet weather tires on for the final stint."
Q: What was the problem with Lewis's visor?
MW: Midway through the middle stint, Lewis came on the radio and told us he was having significant visibility problems. We weren't sure of the extent of the problem but later found out that he was having a fogging problem on the right-hand-side of the visor - and opening the visor just a little was causing the rain to flood into his helmet. We radioed him to ask if he wanted to pit early but he told us he could cope with the problem - that's a testament to just how cool and calm he remained during the race. You actually saw him wiping his visor down the Hangar Straight at one point. We took the decision on the pitwall to clean his visor on the inside and outside and positioned one of the mechanics to do so during his second stop. It's actually a very rare occurrence and this sort of fogging problem has not occurred before."
Q: Heikki achieved his first ever Formula 1 pole position - what happened to him during the race?
MW: Heikki's race was made difficult by problems with graining on his rear tires, which affected him in all three stints and made his car increasingly difficult to drive. In the closing laps, he was left vulnerable to the cars behind him but made a superb effort to push past Fernando in a car that was badly compromised on grip and traction. From the start of the race, he started complaining about a lack of grip at the rear-end and the car became increasingly snappy in both the high and low-speed corners - obviously that trait made the car increasingly hard to control. But his speed across the whole weekend was incontestable: the changes we've recently made to the car seemed to particularly suit Heikki and both his confidence and driving hit a new peak at Silverstone this weekend. He should be massively encouraged by the speed and consistency that he showed in qualifying. I think Heikki can take a lot away from this weekend and feel very encouraged by his performance."
Q: Did the aerodynamic and mechanical improvements you made for the test reap their rewards during the race?
MW: The car certainly felt a great deal more balanced. Of course, we've been making systematic changes all season but we made a good step for Magny-Cours and followed it up with some further changes in last week's Silverstone test. Both Lewis and Heikki reveled in the revised balance and it showed clearly on Friday and Saturday at Silverstone. Both aerodynamic and mechanical changes have brought good dividends, but are only a small part of our seasonal upgrade program."
Q: I believe you were also using a new oil from the team's technology partner ExxonMobil this weekend?
MW: During the past six months McLaren Racing and Mercedes-Benz technical team have been working with the engineers and chemists at ExxonMobil carrying out a detailed re-examination of the friction response characteristics of the V8 engine. The engine design freeze regulation challenged us to re-examine some of our conventional understanding on how the oil can make a difference to the engine performance and there is no doubt that Mobil 1 has helped to achieve a performance gain by carefully matching a variety of oil properties to the current V8 engine design - as stipulated by the regulations."