Q and A: Martin Whitmarsh

lrg-1692-turk08-010Rain could be the key to the title, says McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh.

Lewis described his result in the Santander Italian Grand Prix as damage limitation – would you agree?
“Very much so. In conditions such as we saw at Monza last weekend, it can be very difficult to tick every single box and have a trouble-free weekend. Our difficulties started on Saturday afternoon when our weather forecasting predicted the rains were easing, which led us to fit standard wets to Lewis s car for Q2. Unfortunately, when we quickly aborted this run as the rain intensified, valuable time was lost when Lewis was called into the weigh bridge and we could, thereafter, not generate the necessary tyre temperatures to be completed in that session. Having said that, I think we recovered very well from Saturday, very consciously played the numbers correctly on Sunday, and secured a sizeable haul of constructors points.”

Heikki looked disappointed not to finish higher than second – was there a reason for that?
“Heikki has no reason to feel disappointed – the reality is that he didn t put a foot wrong all weekend and looked blindingly fast in dry, damp and full-wet conditions; fuel-corrected, he would have been on pole position comfortably. He struggled a little with visibility in the early stages of the race and had a few difficulties with his tyres and brake temperatures, but we are not disappointed with his result. Let s not forget that Heikki is fearsomely quick but is still very much developing his approach. We have a clearly defined programme for him in the weeks and months ahead and feel certain that he will only grow stronger.”

Given the often-variable weather we can encounter in both Asia and South America, are you encouraged by the wet-weather performance of the MP4-23?
“Very much so. Last year, we felt the performance differential to our chief rivals was decidedly more marked – there were some circuits where we were clearly ahead, and others where we lacked race-winning pace. Given that this year has shown both Ferrari and ourselves to be remarkably evenly-matched, the performance of MP4-23 in unusual weather conditions could prove decisive. Looking ahead, while Singapore is something of an unknown quantity, I think we ve all experienced wet races in Japan, China and Brazil so we feel well prepared. And allied to Lewis s fearsome abilities in the rain, we have every reason to feel confident that we ll be ready to capitalise on any untoward conditions.”

What will be the defining characteristic of this four-race battle for the world championship?
“As I said, the cars are extremely closely-matched, so I think it will be hard for either team to establish a decisive advantage in the four final races. More importantly, I think this world championship will boil down to whichever team and driver makes the fewest mistakes from now on. It s about preparing the cars with immaculate reliability, running them responsibly and not taking any unnecessary risks. We re lucky that both our drivers can still play their engine joker card ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix, which is reassuring, but it s all about finding strength in every single area and not exposing any weaknesses. It will be a tough battle but we are gearing up for the fight.”

What are the team s plans for this week s Jerez test?
“At present, we are planning to run Gary and Pedro at Jerez this week. It s the last group test of the season so it s very important that all three days are productive as the developments we try could have an influence on the world championship. In that respect, we will be working through some detail aerodynamic changes, most notably around the front-end, and carrying out some suspension and set-up work. We are also planning our first on-track evaluation of our 2009 KERS system components.”

With head of race operations Steve Hallam announcing his departure to NASCAR at the end of the season, are there any other changes on the horizon within the engineering department?
“Steve had been with us since 1990 and remains a hugely respected member of our team. I understand his desire to spread his wings, and I wish him well, but he will nonetheless be hugely missed. Elsewhere, Monza was the first race for our new Head of Vehicle Design, Andrew Bailey. He has considerable engineering and technical expertise, grounded in marine technology, and I m sure he will help strengthen the design department during a critical period of development within the sport.”

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