Q and A with Martin Whitmarsh
McLaren-Mercedes CEO Formula One Martin Whitmarsh looks back at Heikki Kovalainen's maiden victory at the conclusion of the Hungarian Grand Prix: the third Finn to do so bearing the team's colors.
Additionally, Whitmarsh comments on several other subjects including Lewis Hamilton's performance, Ferrari, aerodynamics, and preparations for the inaugural Grand Prix on Valencia's urban circuit.
You've seen young drivers take their first wins for McLaren before - what will Sunday's result mean for Heikki?
"We have a strong Finnish tradition in the team, and I've seen both Mika (Hakkinen) and Kimi (Raikkonen) take their first Grand Prix wins while driving for McLaren. With Lewis, too, that maiden victory firstly stands as a validation of their skill and only really underlines what we at McLaren Mercedes have always believed about our drivers: we hire them because we believe them all to be winners, and once we can provide them with the equipment to do that, it is clearly only a matter of time before they start winning, and winning regularly."
"With Heikki, yesterday's (Sunday's) result was fully justified and very much deserved: he's had his fair share of bad luck during the early part of the season and his win in Hungary showed that he'd let none of that misfortune pile up on his shoulders. He's as committed as ever and fully focused on winning for the team."
"And we've seen with all our other drivers that once they get that winning feeling, it's something they want to keep doing.
And none of us in the team are left in any doubt that Heikki is a superb racing driver and this result will only strengthen his ambition in the second half of the year. I'm fully confident that Heikki will win another Grand Prix before the end of the season and we fully aim to provide him with the equipment to do so."
"Clearly, we are targeting Ferrari in the constructors' championship and it will only be to our benefit to have both our drivers pushing as hard as possible to close down that points gap."
Were you surprised that Ferrari seemed to be able to switch on their pace on Sunday? Apart from the tire issue, what problems affected Lewis during the race?
"Clearly, Felipe (Massa) was strong in Budapest, particularly in the early part of the race and we come away from Hungary with a clear intention of understanding where that perceived uplift of performance came from. But the reality is that Lewis' pace behind Felipe during the first stint was very respectable - he was able to peg him to around the three-second mark until the first pitstops - and we weren't unduly concerned about the Ferrari's pace."
"In our second stint, I think we started to turn our fortunes around: we pitted later than Felipe, fuelled Lewis significantly longer than the Ferrari and had a performance advantage, despite the heavier fuel-load. We felt confident that we would have been in a significantly stronger position going into the last stint but, unfortunately, Lewis' tire problem not only forced him to complete the best part of a lap on a flat tire, he suffered the failure at Turn One and the tire was flat by Turn Two, but also caused him to pit earlier than anticipated."
"This not only negated the fuel advantage he was originally carrying but forced him to look after his super-soft tires over a far longer stint than we had originally anticipated. That he managed to do that so effortlessly is a great testament to his presence of mind, and his fifth position, during an afternoon of damage-limitation, was a truly impressive result."
What benefits have the nosebox winglets brought to the MP4-23?
"The reality is that you can't isolate the advantages that a singular piece of aerodynamic componentry brings to the car's performance. While much has been made of the nosebox winglets we ran in testing in Jerez and at the Hungarian Grand Prix, the reality is that they work in harmony with the whole car to increase downforce and improve balance. It's a testament not just to our design and wind tunnel teams, but also to our model-making and manufacturing departments that we have been able to bring so many new items like these to recent races. And our aggressive development strategy shows no sign of slowing down. This is where the World Championship will be won or lost, we've seen it happen before."
What developments are planned during the summer break and what will we see on the car in Valencia?
"We are undertaking two 50km shakedown tests ahead of Valencia. We're also continually developing new parts for the car. As our simulation and development departments continue to produce new parts, we'll take a view as to whether they'll be raced. We won't disclose what they are but I'm sure you'll see some new components appear during Friday testing at the next race."
A number of teams have recently introduced 'shark fin' dorsal wings - what is the state of development with the McLaren Mercedes dorsal?
"We tested the engine cover dorsal fin during the pre-German Grand Prix test at Hockenheim. Its intended aim was to improve the car's sensitivity during yaw, but we found that some of the advantage it brought to that area was being offset elsewhere. As you can clearly see, it is a large structure and one that is particularly sensitive to crosswinds. We felt that our car already delivers sufficiently in yaw and that continuing to experiment with the dorsal fin might not bring us the sufficient performance benefit we'd require to make it worthwhile. As such, it is not something we are giving priority to at the moment."
Looking ahead to the European Grand Prix, what sort of preparation is the team doing ahead of this new race?
"We've been paying very close attention to the construction of the new shorefront circuit in Valencia and are convinced it is going to be an exciting addition to the Formula 1 calendar and an absolutely top-line facility. There are a number of things we as a team can do ahead of arriving at any new circuit. In this instance, we have had people visiting Valencia regularly to collect data about the track surface, curb heights and run-off areas so we can build up as clear a picture as possible of the demands that will be placed on a Formula 1 racing car during the European Grand Prix."