Q&A with McLaren Managing Director Jonathan Neale The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1 Team has undertaken a reshuffle of its race engineering crews. The Woking-based outfit announced the changes today and declared that the reason for the reshuffle is the coming of Jenson Button and new resources restrictions coming into force in 2010. Jonathan Neale, managing director, explains the changes.
How are you preparing for Jenson Button’s arrival at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes? “When Jenson visited MTC, one of the questions he asked was, ‘Is this Lewis’s team?’ and the answer was ‘Yes, of course it’s Lewis’s team… as it was Heikki Kovalainen’s team, Fernando Alonso’s team, Juan Pablo Montoya’s, and Kimi Raikkonen’s. And it will be your team as well.
“Is this Lewis’s team to the exclusion of any other high-performance driver? Absolutely not. At Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, we love winning drivers – and we want to go about telling the world that story.”
So what prompted the reshuffle in race engineering? “Several reasons: firstly, we felt it was the right time. Both our current race engineers, Phil Prew [Lewis Hamilton] and Mark Slade [Heikki Kovalainen], have been the team’s race engineers for more than 15 years. We’ve now got a number of very good people who are trained and ready to go – and we want to give them the platform from which they can make their experience and expertise really count.”
“We also want to build an engineering team around Jenson, in exactly the same way we did with Lewis back in 2007. We want to create a strong group of individuals who can bring out the best in Jenson’s naturally smooth style.
“Additionally, we’re very keen to keep on developing our organization. We’ve seen huge developments in aerodynamics, engineering and manufacturing throughout the team, and we are taking the reduction in trackside staff as an opportunity to strengthen race engineering.
“With the resource restriction agreement affecting the number of personnel we’ll bring to the races this year, we also saw this as an ideal opportunity to look at how the process works and to make some changes accordingly.”
When did the process start? “We’d been looking at it since the end of the season, but, naturally, weren’t making any decisions in race engineering until we’d finalized our driver line-up. Now that we have Jenson confirmed to drive alongside Lewis, we want to make absolutely sure we can do an equal job for both drivers.
“To help facilitate this, Phil Prew, who has been Lewis’s race engineer for the past few years, is going to take on a new role as the team’s principal race engineer. He’ll travel to every race and will manage the set-up, development, and sharing of data and information between both race engineering teams.”
With Phil taking on a new role, how will the race engineering team be reconfigured? “The race engineering team on Lewis’s car will be headed by Andy Latham, with Mark Temple as his performance engineer. On Jenson’s side, Jakob Andreasen – a very experienced engineer who has worked alongside Phil on Lewis’s car for the last few years – will be the race engineer. Dave Robson, who’s also very experienced, will be Jenson’s performance engineer. We’re giving both drivers a fresh engineering team, with Phil as the bridge between them both.”
Does Phil’s role ensure greater parity between the drivers? “It does – but it’s primarily to ensure there’s total transfer in the learning of set-up development. It gives us a figurehead and a go-to person for the rest of the organization across the race weekend, so they can ask Phil: ‘What’s happening with set-up? Which way are we going?’
“We can also better use the simulation team and the engineers back at the McLaren Technology Centre to say to Phil: ‘You might want to try this,’ and Phil can supervise that flow of information.”
Does the reshuffle suggest there was a hole that needed filling in race engineering? “I think it’s more that the opportunity of a new driver, plus the rethinking required by the resource restriction agreement, comes at a very good time for us. It enabled us to ask ourselves: ‘How are we going to best do this?’
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