BARCELONA, Spain, Monday, Jan. 21, 2002 - Team West McLaren-Mercedes has undergone many changes and will undergo many more in the upcoming season as it takes up the challenge to regain the Drivers and Constructors FIA Formula One World Championships from Ferrari.
That was one of the main themes as the team unveiled its 2002 car - the West McLaren-Mercedes MP4/17 - at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain.
"The paint job makes this year's car look very similar to previous cars," said Team Principal Ron Dennis, "but, as always, a huge effort has gone into the car. There are a lot of features on it which we feel confident will make it a very competitive car. The car represents one of many milestones that we have set for ourselves with the car, the engine and also the rest of the team.
"Formula One has changed dramatically over the years, and we feel that there is a need for change. The way we are approaching change is to introduce significant steps on the car and significant improvements in the team throughout the year. Some changes will be very apparent, such as a new way of moving our vehicles around and a different look (in the team uniforms). Throughout the whole season, both technically and visually, you will see the team improve."
The need to change, Dennis said, was because the team needs to win. True, McLaren drivers David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen won four times last year, including a victory by Hakkinen in the SAP United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but a total of four victories is low by McLaren's standards.
"If the company is not winning races, it is not fulfilling its objective because we exist to win," Dennis said. "We do not exist to lose. The Formula One Grand Prix organization is our core business. If we are winning, we are only doing our job. If we are not winning, we are not doing our job.
"Winning is not the bonus. Winning it getting the job done. And if you are not winning, you have to change things."
The team's results last year resulted in all the changes for this year.
"Failure is a good stimulus for change," said McLaren Managing Director Martin Whitmarsh, "and last year we failed, so that caused us to re-evaluate where we are."
Changes include a restructuring of the engineering department, which now numbers more than 100 people, a switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tires and an all-new engine from Mercedes-Benz.
"We changed the vee angle," said Norbert Haug, head of motorsport at Mercedes-Benz. "We changed the cylinder bore, have higher revs, better power, more torque and made an improvement in the each and every area. There is good potential in this engine, and it is a very good base for the future. It is an important step in the right direction. You will see various engines revving higher than 18,000 rpm this year, and our engine will certainly be among them."
The team is also in the long process of phasing in a move into its new state-of-the-art factory and base called Paragon.
Another change is on the driver front with Kimi Raikkonen replacing fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen, who is taking a year's sabbatical. Raikkonen joins the team after an impressive rookie season with Sauber-Petronas in 2001. While his steep learning curve continues, Raikkonen is not concerned about following in the footsteps of two-time World Champion Hakkinen.
"I don't worry about it," Raikkonen said. "I will just do my best. I don't need to follow in his steps."
Still, Raikkonen said he hopes to score at least one victory this year.
One thing that has not changed in the team is driver David Coulthard, who returns to West McLaren-Mercedes for a seventh consecutive season. Coulthard, who has 11 career Grand Prix victories and finished second in the Drivers Championship behind Michael Schumacher last year, said he is more motivated than ever.
"If you are already at the top of your profession," Coulthard said, "then maybe you lose the motivation a little bit to keep pushing, but I am still climbing that hill. I am still aiming for that goal of winning the World Championship. So during the winter break the focus was still on F1 and still on victories.
"I believe that I can do better. The day that you decide that you have reached your maximum, then that's the day, if you are honest with yourself, that you have to stop. I have not reached that point yet."
Test driver Alexander Wurz, who completed 10,500 miles (17,000 km) of testing last year, shook down the new MP4/17 on Jan. 18 at the Silverstone circuit and then drove it at the Barcelona circuit after its official launch the following day.
to discuss this article