Q&A with Martin Whitmarsh
With Lewis Hamilton delivering a perfect drive in China last week-end - including pole position, fastest race lap and victory - the McLaren team is already looking forward to the final Grand Prix of the season in Brazil.
However, the Chinese GP performance was offset by a problem with the hydraulic system aboard Heikki Kovalainen's MP4-23, forcing the Finn to retire.
In the drivers' standings, Hamilton will be taking on Brazil's Interlagos circuit with a seven-point advantage. On the other hand, McLaren holds an 11-point deficit on Ferrari for the constructor’s crown.
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1 of the McLaren team, looks back at China and ahead to Brazil.
Lewis reveled in the balance of his MP4-23 in Shanghai last weekend - were there any particular reasons why the car proved so competitive?
"The reality is that we strive to make the MP4-23 well-balanced in every race, but sometimes we are able to achieve better results at certain tracks than at others. While both drivers and their engineers worked hard to bounce back as convincingly as possible from the disappointments of Fuji, the groundwork had already been done back at the McLaren Technology Centre and at Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines. The engineers were able to provide the race team with a very focused set of performance parameters around which they were able to refine the car for the racetrack with the minimum of difficulty."
"And that's the approach we will take into Brazil next week: methodical and iterative analysis and evaluation of the data to eliminate the rogue variables that could distract from our core focus. It may not sound exciting, but it's the number-crunching that ultimately allows you to win races."
Does the team have any reliability concerns ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix?
"Of course, we are keenly aware that the World Championship could be won or lost by a mechanical failure. As a result, we are leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to minimize this possibility. For example, that meant consciously turning down Lewis' engine on the run to the flag in China in order to give him plenty of engine life for Brazil."
The regulations do not allow Lewis to play his engine 'joker' in Brazil - does this mean he will be subjected to a 10-place grid penalty if his engine fails after Friday practice?
"Regrettably, yes - but we don't foresee this being an issue. Lewis' engine will be on its second race in Sao Paulo while Heikki will use a brand new V8, so we can balance the two approaches to engine life. In terms of gearbox life, Lewis' will be on race three while Heikki will start the weekend with a new 'box - but the level of reliability inherent in the gearbox means we anticipate fewer problems in this area."
Lewis doesn't need to win the next race to clinch the drivers' championship, does that enable the team to take a more conservative approach towards performance and reliability?
"Clearly, we can afford to be more conservative than normal in our approach to Lewis' race, but we are still pushing to win the constructors' championship and it would be wrong of us as a team to overlook this fact. There are 18 points available in Brazil and there's no reason why we can't take forward the pace and form we showed in China to achieve a one-two in Brazil."
"As a result, we do have a number of minor aerodynamic upgrades in the pipeline that we are evaluating for inclusion on our Brazil-spec car. As with every race this season, we have brought something to the car - even if it has only been generating a few extra hundredths of lap time - and it would be wrong of us to close down that option for Interlagos."