Q & A with McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh With their car launch set for Friday and its on-track debut a week away, McLaren’s Woking factory will no doubt be a hive of activity as the British team complete last-minute preparations. Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh, however, has found time to answer some pressing questions about their 2010 campaign. Will they miss the input from BMW Sauber-bound tester Pedro de la Rosa? Will fellow world champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button get along? Is the MP4-25 a winning car? Whitmarsh reveals all…
Q: How is progress going with the 2010 car? What are your plans for testing?
Martin Whitmarsh: Clearly, the absence of testing in January has eased the car-build schedule to a certain degree, but we’re still working as hard as ever at the McLaren Technology Centre. We’ll be launching the car at Vodafone’s UK headquarters in Newbury on January 29, and we’ll be running one MP4-25 at the first test at Valencia on February 1. Obviously, Pedro (de la Rosa)’s decision to sign with Sauber will have a slight impact on our test program, but we’ll overcome it. We’re very happy that Pedro has got a race drive for 2010 - he’s been a great asset to our team and, above all, a very dear friend to all of us. As has become customary with most teams, the first tests will be about establishing a baseline of performance, allowing the engineers and mechanics to learn and understand the new car and the impact of the new regulations. And, as in previous years, we’ll introduce a series of upgrades at one of the later tests, and that will be the car we take to the opening race.
Q: What is the initial feedback from your data and simulation work about the performance of MP4-25?
MW: During the development of MP4-25, we set ourselves some very high targets - and I’m enormously pleased with the way our designers and engineers have tackled the approach to the new car. The new regulations have obviously had an effect on the car’s appearance, with the much higher-capacity fuel tank looking more striking than before. But we’re pleased with a number of solutions we’ve been able to bring to the car, and I think we’re cautiously optimistic that, after the experience of last year and, in particular, the momentum we gathered in the second half of the season, we’ll have a competitive car for both Jenson and Lewis. Is it a championship contender? It’s still far too early to say. Will it win races? We certainly hope so. Am I proud of the effort we’ve currently invested in the car? Most definitely.
Q: You have the previous two world champions on board. How easy will it be manage Hamilton and Button, and ensure that both work for the benefit of the team?
MW: I’m relatively relaxed about the driver partnership. Knowing Lewis as I do, and having got to know more of Jenson during the limited time I’ve spent with him during his busy visits to MTC (McLaren Technology Centre), I feel relatively confident that our driver line-up this year will be a very stable and mutually productive one. But neither became world champion simply by driving at the limit on the racetrack; they’ve each been responsible for molding and developing an organization around them, and in exploiting the skills of their respective engineers to the best of their abilities. And it’s that sort of approach that we’ll be looking to encourage from both drivers in order to give us a performance advantage. We’ve also got an extremely experienced and capable race team, and we feel that will play absolutely to our drivers’ strengths. Equally, they know that Formula One in 2010 will be more competitive than ever before. Collaboration, understanding and the shared development of the car will be at the forefront of everybody’s mind. And given the testing limitations and the minimal track time at the weekend, it’s the only way to get ahead. Both Jenson and Lewis fully understand that. That’s why I’m so thrilled with our driver partnership - I really think it will play to the strengths of modern Formula One. Of course, we wouldn’t be going racing if we couldn’t let our drivers ‘off the leash’, but our absolute priority is to develop a front-running car.
Q: The main regulation change this year is the banning of refueling. What impact will this have on the racing? Will it be better, or will it result in more processional races?
MW: Inevitably, when you make a change, there are pros and cons. Regarding the pros, it arguably makes qualifying purer because the fastest car/driver combination will be setting the fastest times, and the public can understand that. Secondly, in the race itself, overtaking was often being planned and implemented to occur as a consequence of strategy, and therefore happening in the pit lane and not the circuit. In the absence of that effect, drivers will have a greater incentive to overtake. There have been occasions in the past where a driver hasn’t had that incentive because he knows he will be running longer and can get past the car ahead strategically through the pit stops. Additionally, the fact that drivers will qualify on low-fuel, and then the next time they drive the car in anger into the first corner will be after a standing start with cold tires and cold brakes and 160 kg of fuel. That will be very challenging for them, not just in terms of getting round that first corner, but in terms of how they look after their tires and how the balance of the car will alter as a consequence of that. And there will be drivers who are able to deal with those changes better than others. Those are all the positives. On the negative side, it’s possible that if all of the above is managed equally well by every driver, then we’ll have lost one of the strategic campaign interests that the more avid fans enjoyed in the sport. Hopefully the former points will outweigh the latter. F1