Whitmarsh and Haug look for German GP win After Silverstone, the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team begins preparations for its second ‘home’ race; next week’s Santander German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Martin Whitmarsh and Norbert Haug talk about their expectations for this important race.
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: Nine races gone and nine to go: what’s your evaluation of the team’s progress at this halfway stage in the world championship? “We’re leading the drivers’ championship with Lewis and are third in the constructors’ championship. And while we remain encouraged by the pace we’ve recently shown and the victories we’ve achieved, there’s a feeling that we could still be doing more to consistently score strongly. Several opportunities for victory, most notably in Istanbul and Montreal, have slipped through our fingers; we’ve suffered a few penalties – which we took squarely on the chin – and, through no fault of his own, Heikki has finished out of the points on several occasions, either due to us being unable to provide him with a suitable car or through circumstances that were largely beyond his control. So as we head into the second half of the season, our primary objective must be to work harder to iron out these imperfections, to provide our drivers with race-winning machinery at every opportunity and to sharpen our focus on the world titles – both of which are still achievable for us. I think Heikki’s pole position and Lewis’s win in the Santander British Grand Prix win were good for our momentum; the atmosphere back in Woking on Monday morning was incredibly upbeat and positive because we all know we’re strongly back in the hunt for the world championship. And we’re not going to easily let go of that.”
Has it been difficult to get an accurate read on the team’s overall competitiveness in the last few races? “I know the fans would love to see a straight fight between ourselves and our rivals – but fate, and the weather, has conspired against that happening in the four most recent races in Monaco, Montreal, Magny-Cours and Silverstone – so we can still only estimate where we sit in terms of overall performance. But the reality is, we’re keenly aware of the steps we’ve taken to improve the car and feel confident that we’ve currently got a fantastic race car that can be developed sufficiently for the rest of the season. We’re confident we’ll be competitive in Hockenheim next week, but one of the beauties of Formula 1 is that you just can’t tell until the red lights go out on Sunday afternoon.”
In which areas are you particularly satisfied with in-season development? “While MP4-23 immediately kicked off the year in winning style, we were under no illusions that it would only be through continuous season-long development that we would remain competitive. Clearly, Ferrari has a very strong package and BMW Sauber remains a constant threat to both teams, but the upgrades we made prior to the French and British Grands Prix, particularly in the detail aerodynamic work, has given the car a considerable step-change and made it feel much better balanced for the drivers. Silverstone also saw the introduction of new fuel and lubricants from our partners at Mobil 1 and that has also made an incremental but useful improvement to engine performance. In Hockenheim this week, we evaluated a number of further aerodynamic improvements, some of which were plain to see, and it’s rewarding to see just how far we’ve already pushed development of the 23. While we have already started looking in greater detail at our 2009 package, there are currently no plans to ease up on seasonal development of this year’s car.”
Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: At Hockenheim the second half of this season begins. What can we expect? “There have been four different winners from three different teams in the first nine races; two drivers, Lewis Hamilton, who will come to Hockenheim as the championship leader, and Felipe Massa have won three races respectively. Massa and Kimi Räikkönen are tied on points with Lewis, and fourth placed Robert Kubica is two points behind. Following Heikki’s first Formula 1 pole position and Lewis’s outstanding victory at Silverstone the team comes to Hockenheim with the intention to maintain this trend. Lewis’s success with an advantage of more than 68 seconds was the most dominant win in Formula 1 for 13 years when in 1995 Damon Hill won the Australian Grand Prix by a margin of two laps.”
Ten years ago McLaren Mercedes won at Hockenheim the last time. Where do you take your optimism from? “Two pole positions but only two podium positions and one fastest lap in the last two races at Hockenheim are naturally not what we and the fans will be expecting at the second of the team’s two home grands prix. At the tests before Magny-Cours, Silverstone and during this week at Hockenheim we have further improved the MP4-23 mechanically and aerodynamically, and the drivers are happy with the balance of the car. There are great challenges for drivers and cars at Hockenheim. In 2006 the average lap speed during qualifying was 222kph, 69 percent of a lap are run under full throttle; both figures are above the average of all other Formula 1 circuits. Consequently Hockenheim is a so called ‘engine circuit’, and that certainly suits us. Five times per lap the drivers reach 280kph and more, the longest full throttle part – before the hairpin – is 1100 meters corresponding to 15 seconds of full throttle. This season so far Lewis has led for most laps compared to the competition, 179 from 571 in total that is 31 percent, a little less than one third of all laps and kilometers that have been completed. It would be nice if he would add one more leading lap at Hockenheim – the last one of the race.”
What is the significance for Mercedes-Benz of this ‘home’ grand prix at Hockenheim? “As already at Silverstone there are many spectators on the grandstands who also come because of us or even especially because of us. Among them are several thousand Mercedes-Benz employees who have bought tickets to watch Lewis and Heikki. We have prepared a special program for the spectators with surplus value without additional charge at the Mercedes Grandstand. New this year is the ‘Kangaroo TV’ which will be offered by us for a special price and keeps you informed so that you don’t miss anything during practice, qualifying and race. Additional highlights of the program are the visits of Lewis, Heikki, test drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett as well as all the Mercedes-Benz DTM drivers from Bernd Schneider to Ralf Schumacher. Also present will be Formula 1 double World Champion Mika Häkkinen. In addition to this there are co-driving opportunities in the Safety Driving Centre close to the grandstand. We don’t forget that the most important work will take place on the track, however we do everything to make the race a terrific experience also apart from simply the sporting spectacle.”
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