Q&A with McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh
McLaren may not have taken victory around the streets of Valencia on Sunday afternoon, but with Lewis Hamilton finishing second and Heikki Kovalainen fourth, the team did make slight inroads into Ferrari in the constructors' championship.
Team CEO Martin Whitmarsh looks back on the European Grand Prix weekend.
After several weeks’ simulation and preparation, did the European Grand Prix weekend play out largely as you had expected?
"It’s fair to say we predicted more drama from a track lined with concrete walls and had factored the appearance of at least one Safety Car period into our pre-race calculations. The reality is that the race had its moments of controversy but never quite delivered the level of incident we’d been anticipated beforehand."
"I don’t know whether that’s down to us misinterpreting the level of risk involved in racing around this track or whether it was just a testament to the good driving standards of modern Formula 1 drivers. Nonetheless, we came away from Valencia having made gains in both championships, which was very encouraging."
How close did Lewis come to not taking part in the race?
"At 8am on Saturday, I received a phone call from the team’s doctor, Aki Hintsa, telling me that Lewis was in some difficulties - he’d woken up with a severe migraine and with his neck in spasm.
Aki treated Lewis but, when he arrived at the circuit on Saturday morning, he could barely move his neck at all, so things looked very severe."
"As a precaution, we readied Pedro to take over - but, despite delaying his start to Saturday practice, Lewis was able to continue with his full race program. His physical problems are unlikely to disturb his fitness program and we expect him to make a full recovery for both the Monza test and next week’s Belgian GP."
Was the race pace of the MP4-23 largely what you had been anticipating?
"Lewis felt a lot better on Sunday but was still slightly sore and tender. We are delighted he was able to sustain the performance of a full race in hot conditions. We did not have the package to beat Felipe Massa but we feel we did a first-rate job and secured a very useful haul of world championship points. Lewis extended his lead in the drivers’ championship and, in the constructors’, we extended our lead over BMW Sauber and closed down the gap to Ferrari."
Heikki’s victory in Hungary and fourth place in Valencia suggest he’s become a more complete driver - would you agree?
Most definitely. The reality is that Heikki’s particularly strong when he’s got the car in front in his sights. When he homes in on another competitor then his natural competitive instincts really come alive. Heikki’s much more adept at switching effortlessly between engine-saving, brake-saving and tire-saving modes and knows exactly when to push - so the situation he encountered at the start of the year when he was dealing with slightly more tire degradation is no longer a concern."
How do you see the remainder of the championship playing out?
"I think Ferrari were pleased the sun came out on Sunday as I’m sure they feel when the track temperature really heats up that’s when their car really comes to them. We’re now entering extremely interesting territory where we won’t be entirely certain what sort of temperatures we’ll be encountering at some of the future races: Monza is likely to be hot and Singapore will probably be cooler, but the races at Spa, Fuji, Shanghai and Brazil could just as easily be sweltering as torrential. Regardless, we will continue to make changes to our car right through until Brazil."