Q and A: Martin Whitmarsh

Martin WhitmarshMcLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh reflects on an eventful Monaco Grand Prix which yielded McLaren’s second win of the season and Lewis Hamilton’s first triumph at the Principality.

Lewis secured Vodafone McLaren Mercedes second consecutive victory in the Monaco Grand Prix, Formula 1s most prestigious race, but the rain made things a touch less straightforward for the team this time…

Absolutely. Saturday was a slightly flat day for us, because we thought we d put enough fuel in the car to get pole position, but it wasn t to be. That was tough, but we knew we had two good drivers and a reasonably quick car. We were hopeful, but we knew it would be a difficult race. We just didn t realise quite how difficult.

Lewis made an unscheduled pit stop on lap six, after glancing the barriers at Tabac. Did you really believe the race was still winnable from there?

Definitely. He had made a great start and the incident, unfortunate though it was, only dropped him from second to fifth. We could see how quickly he was lapping in the damp conditions and we knew how much fuel we had just put in the car. We felt we d be in a strong position at the end of the race – and there was always the possibility of a Safety Car period or two, to mix things up.

How pleased were you with the team s response to that early setback?

I believe we dealt with the situation very well. We put in a reasonably heavy fuel load, but despite the weight penalty Lewis maintained a really quick pace – a vital factor at that stage of the race. He did a terrific job. Conditions were exceptionally difficult but he didn t commit any other errors and the team made the right calls at the right time. We re delighted with the outcome.

Did the accident do you a favour, in a strange sort of way, in that the evolving conditions actually suited the strategy you adopted?

We were dealt a card and I think we played it well. We were put in a particular situation and managed to make it work to our advantage.

Had the race run conventionally, in dry conditions with no interruptions, when would you have brought Lewis in for his first stop?

We don t want to show our hand, but we were confident we d have the pace to get him ahead of Ferrari at the first stop. It would have been difficult, but it became hypothetical because circumstances eventually dictated that this wouldn t be an ordinary race.

Lewis still had plenty of fuel on board when he made his second stop on lap 54. Why did you bring him in early?

We were slightly anxious because we wanted to cover him against the potential risk of a Safety Car. People were starting to switch to dries and conditions were still very slippery, so the chances of an accident were quite high, but it was clear that dry tyres were the way to go. That s why we called him in when we did and it was the right thing to do.

The second Safety Car period lasted several laps, which must have caused tyre temperatures to drop significantly, yet Lewis set a personal best on his first flying lap after the restart. That was quite impressive.

It was. Both Lewis and Heikki have plenty of experience, from karting upwards, and are used to dealing with fluctuating conditions. I also think Lewis is particularly good at dealing with Safety Car restarts. He did a great job.”

Lewis s victory will doubtless dominate the headlines, but Heikki Kovalainen coped well once again with adversity.

He did, yes. Just before the start he lost control of his clutch – it was probably a software glitch with the monitor that was plugged into the car, but we need to investigate that. We changed the steering wheel, reset the system and got him going, but Heikki was very unlucky because he subsequently spent much of his race in traffic. On a clear road, though, he showed how quick he can be around here.

What happened during the second Safety Car period? He seemed to lose out there, too.

He was one lap down, behind Adrian Sutil, and we asked the FIA whether he was allowed to pass Adrian and make up the lost lap, as the rules permit. He was eventually cleared to pass, but the race then restarted while he was still in no man s land. He carried on pushing, though, and scored a valuable point, so despite everything he did a fantastic job.

He was particularly quick at the end and set the second fastest lap of the race.

That s all the more commendable because it s not always easy to maintain your focus and motivation if you are just scrapping for the odd point. His attitude was fantastic.

We are one third of the way through the 2008 season and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has scored two wins to Ferrari s four. How do you assess the state of play?

It looks as though the title will probably be a race between Ferrari and ourselves, although I still wouldn t discount BMW and others. We ll just carry on trying to improve the car between now and the end of the year. If we can progress at a better rate than Ferrari we ll win the championship, and vice versa. Aside from the events every fortnight there s a race between races to develop the car.”

You recently did some preparatory testing for the next race, in Canada. How did that go?

We ran for one day at Le Castellet in France, and it was a productive exercise. Braking and straight-line speeds are critical factors in Canada and we ve been focusing on those areas. This year our car has excelled in sweeping, high-speed corners: Montreal hasn t got any of those, but we have done very well there before and I m confident we ll be very strong again.

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