Q and A: Martin Whitmarsh

Martin WhitmarshMcLaren chief on the stress of reliability as Woking squad prepare for pivotal Brazilian GP.

How do you assess the balance between Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and Ferrari going into the last round of the 2008 world championship?
“While Ferrari was able to out-perform us at last year s Brazilian Grand Prix, we feel relatively confident that the situation will be different this year for several reasons. Firstly, looking at the trends of the season, the characteristics of our car should be better suited to Interlagos than they were in 2007. Also, the weather was exceptionally warm last year – something that tends to favour Ferrari – and the chances are that it won t be quite so hot next week. These elements should create a very tight competition, which is good for everybody.”

Are there any other unusual variables to take into consideration at Interlagos?
“The track is fairly bumpy, so there s a greater premium placed on finding a good, driveable balance. The track itself is situated at fairly high altitude, which has a knock-on effect on engine horsepower and downforce, both of which are a little lower than at a regular circuit. For this race, we ll also be looking at the possibility of running Lewis s engine in a safer setting so it has a bit more margin than normal. It s something we do throughout the season but, clearly, there s a greater need to be safe this weekend.”

What sort of additional pressure is placed on the race team for such a high-stakes race?
“While we try and eliminate as many difficulties for the race team as is possible, there is no escaping the fact that a title-deciding race is clearly very stressful. You re somewhat torn because the need to score four points is considerably easier than winning – but that sort of attitude is anathema to the team. The reality is that Shanghai was rather more stressful because we only had a five-point cushion over Felipe and that could have been seriously dented. Given our performance so far this year, you d assume that Lewis would be able to score the necessary points – but that could be affected by a sudden Safety Car period or a mechanical problem. Both drivers just need to drive clean races; but reliability is the biggest stress-builder for the guys in the garage, and it is a constant worry.”