Whitmarsh: I think we should be worried about the pace

McLaren on Friday admitted it is now “worried” about the pace of the new MP4-28 car.

Jenson Button was just ninth in opening practice in Melbourne, before lagging more than two seconds off the pace in the second ninety minute session. Team newcomer Sergio Perez was consistently even slower.

“I think we should be worried about the pace,” team boss Martin Whitmarsh told British broadcaster Sky. “It is a tough day in the office for everyone at the moment, we are lacking grip and there is a lot of head scratching at the moment,” he said.

While most top teams – notably continuing pacesetters Red Bull – simply evolved their 2012 cars for the final season of V8 regulations, McLaren unveiled a radical new car for this year, including novel pull-rod front suspension.

“I think we are still learning and there is a lot we still need to learn about this car,” Whitmarsh added, “but we have struggled frankly to quite understand how it is performing.”

Sporting director Sam Michael likened McLaren’s new struggles to Ferrari’s of early last year, when Fernando Alonso would ultimately go on to challenge for the title.

“By the fourth or fifth race they were there,” he said.


Whitmarsh pushed for Marussia seat for Kovalainen

McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh has admitted to trying to keep Heikki Kovalainen on the F1 grid.

Finn Kovalainen, a McLaren driver in 2008 and 2009, has dropped out of formula one after Caterham replaced him for the forthcoming season with heavily sponsored Dutch driver Giedo van der Garde.

Lewis Hamilton, Kovalainen’s former teammate, said he thinks team bosses are “crazy” to have overlooked the highly rated 31-year-old in favour of pay-drivers.

At around the same time – just before Marussia announced Luiz Razia as Max Chilton’s 2013 teammate – Whitmarsh said he made efforts to help Kovalainen to secure that seat.

“I spoke with Heikki on Tuesday, when I thought about trying to help him with regards to Marussia,” he is quoted by Finland’s Turun Sanomat newspaper.

McLaren has a technical collaboration in place with Marussia.


Whitmarsh thinks Mercedes offered Hamilton ‘a bit more’ money

Martin Whitmarsh says he suspects Lewis Hamilton already regrets accepting a bigger-money offer to switch to Mercedes next year.

The McLaren chief answered “I don’t know” when asked why he thinks the 2008 world champion decided to leave his boyhood team, but thinks a big factor is Hamilton’s desire to spread his wings after six years with the famous British outfit. But Whitmarsh told F1’s official website that money was probably another factor.

“We made Lewis an offer — an offer which I believe is more money than any other driver at the moment is being paid,” said Whitmarsh. “That leads us to suspect that our competitor and our partner Mercedes-Benz offered a bit more money.”

Whitmarsh said he is also concerned for Hamilton that he may have made his decision hastily, after retiring from the lead in Singapore recently.

“I think it is always bad to make a decision in the aftermath of a bad race,” he insisted. “He was pretty sure that he was going to win that race and it was a disappointment and as I just said it is never good to make a decision in such a situation.”

Whitmarsh also said he thinks Hamilton has already regretted his decision “on occasions”, but doesn’t think the 27-year-old will admit it.

“He is not going to say ‘hey, they offered me more money’. He is also not going to say that he’s made an awful mistake. I hope he thinks today that he’s made an awful mistake and I hope he thinks that next year,” said Whitmarsh. “He’s made that decision and he has to live with that decision.”


F1 briefs: Kubica, McLaren-Mercedes and Austin

Robert Kubica will continue his push for racing fitness by stepping up to the wheel of a full world rally-spec Citroen C4 for two forthcoming minor rallies (Rally di Coma and Rallye du Var). “I can’t wait to drive a car that is as quick and has been as successful as the C4 WRC,” said the former BMW and Renault driver, who was seriously injured in a rally crash in February 2011.

Team boss Martin Whitmarsh has once again fended off speculation McLaren could be set to switch engine suppliers, amid rumours the British marque is eyeing a collaboration with Honda. “It is going to be McLaren-Mercedes for quite a few years to come,” he told the Daily Mail. Whitmarsh played down reports the Woking based team is looking at its options because it will now have to pay for a ‘customer’ supply of Mercedes power. “I think we have got a very good deal with them, but I think more importantly than that is we have got a good partnership,” he insisted.

The first of F1’s six cargo 747s has touched down in Austin, Texas, ahead of the Circuit of the Americas’ first US grand prix next weekend. Local broadcaster KVUE said the ‘Cargolux’ flight touched down at Austin-Bergstrom international airport on Wednesday afternoon. “A lot of that (flight’s cargo) is supplies for the paddock area,” track president Steve Sexton said. The Circuit of the Americas is an all-new facility, and Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali told La Stampa his team’s analysis is that it is a “copy and paste” of other well-known grand prix layouts.


McLaren deny Hamilton rift

Jenson Button has hit out at those suggesting McLaren is falling out with departing driver Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton is heading to Mercedes next year, and since the news broke, reports have revealed a Twitter dispute with Button and a Suzuka party-snub by his mechanics. And after Hamilton was reportedly late for a briefing in Korea, a Sky reporter quoted Button as saying his 2013 teammate “Sergio (Perez) wouldn’t have been late”.

“I didn’t say a word of that,” Button told Reuters. “It’s amazing how people are so opinionated about what they see happening within this team with the drivers. None of it is true in the slightest,” he insisted.

With Hamilton leaving McLaren after a six-year career with the British team, however, the British press – as ever – is hanging on the 27-year-old’s every word. For instance, after Korea, Hamilton said racing to tenth was “a day to forget. A year to forget as well. I’m looking forward to a fresh start next year”.

Button replied: “I would word it differently and choose my moment to say it but it’s his view and I understand what he means,” he is quoted by the Mirror.

Indeed, Hamilton insists he is still committed to McLaren.

“I’m still 100 per cent in this team to the last minute,” he said. “People will continue to say that there is a rift between me and Jenson but there honestly is no issue between us.

“I have been part of this team for so many years and have a great relationship. I think I am loved as much as I love the team.”

Button agrees: “As far as I can see with Lewis, he is focused and wants to win races. Nothing has changed, it is just the view of a few people with a wide audience. And they need to get their facts straight,” he is quoted by the Express newspaper.

“He has chosen to go his own way at the end of the year. It is his decision, although I personally don’t think it is the right decision. But the team will do all they can to help him win grands prix.”

And team boss Martin Whitmarsh said he is sure McLaren will give Hamilton a fitting send-off before he moves on to Mercedes.

“He is loved in this team. He knows that,” he is quoted by the Telegraph. “It’s an emotional time for lots of people at this team, including Lewis, but when we’re motor racing we put things to one side and focus on the racing.”


Button: Webber could play title-spoiling role

Jenson Button is expecting Red Bull to play championship games on Sunday.

Mark Webber has qualified on pole in Korea, having declared that he is not ready to start playing a supporting role for his title-vying Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel. But with Vettel now just 4 points behind championship leader Fernando Alonso, and two places ahead of the Spaniard on the grid, McLaren’s Button senses Webber has an important spoiling role to play.

“I don’t think he (Webber) will, do you?” McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh told reporters in the McLaren hospitality area in Korea.

“I do,” nodded Button.

Whitmarsh replied: “Well, I don’t think he will willingly.”


Whitmarsh: Perez is a rough diamond

Martin Whitmarsh has defended McLaren’s 2013 signing, Sergio Perez.

After their on-track battle at Suzuka, in which Perez spun his Sauber into retirement, departing McLaren protege Lewis Hamilton described the Mexican’s driving as “crazy”. But team boss Whitmarsh, who has signed the 22-year-old to replace the Mercedes-bound Hamilton in 2013, told the Independent he disagrees with the 2008 world champion.

“It (the Suzuka incident) shows we have someone (Perez) who wants to go out there and race and challenge,” he said. “There is a diamond that needs to be honed there and that is quite an interesting challenge,” added Whitmarsh.

Whitmarsh: Perez no longer a pay driver

Sergio Perez is no longer a “pay driver”, McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh insists.

Mexican Perez, also backed by Ferrari, started his F1 career by bringing millions in Carlos Slim-linked Telmex dollars to Sauber. But he is now moving to McLaren, amid speculation Telmex might eventually replace the grandee British team’s title sponsor Vodafone.

The Telegraph, however, quotes Whitmarsh as insisting there are no “side deals” to McLaren’s Perez contract.

“I did have a conversation with Carlos Slim yesterday but we have made an offer to Sergio, we are paying him well and there are no side deals,” he said. “I’m not saying that ultimately there won’t be other fresh partners coming forward because of it but that wasn’t the motivating force,” insisted Whitmarsh.

He is quoted by Sky Sports F1 HD channel: “He (Perez) is not a pay driver, he is being paid a lot of money. Sponsorship was not a factor, we picked Sergio because he is the most exciting young talent in formula one.

“Do I believe there will be some exciting commercial opportunities in the future? Yes. Have we looked at them yet? No.”


Whitmarsh bullish over new Hamilton deal

Martin Whitmarsh is sounding more confident than ever about Lewis Hamilton’s future with McLaren.

By improving its contractual offer for 2013 and beyond, the British team has reportedly pulled Hamilton from the brink of switching to Mercedes. Asked by Finland’s Turun Sanomat about what has become known in the paddock as the ‘Hamilton saga’, team boss Whitmarsh answered: “I believe that we will continue together.

“He does a great job. We just have to sort everything out.”

Some British reports have indicated the announcement of a new deal could happen within days.

Whitmarsh smiled: “But what will they all write about then?”


McLaren ‘Plan B’ shaping up amid Hamilton saga

Martin Whitmarsh left Monza insisting McLaren has “no plan B” in the event Lewis Hamilton jumps ship for 2013. But that’s not according to the latest media speculation, which is mentioning Force India’s Paul di Resta and former McLaren driver Heikki Kovalainen as potential candidates to replace the 2008 world champion and Monza winner.

Plan A, however, is undoubtedly re-signing Hamilton.

“I can imagine we’ll have some conversations before Singapore,” team boss Whitmarsh said. But he also admitted it is not too late to slot in a new driver alongside Jenson Button for 2013, and also played down the knowledge about McLaren’s next car that Hamilton might take to a rival team.

“Developing next year’s car is the work of technologists, engineers and designers,” Whitmarsh insisted. “The drivers, apart from when they sit in it, are not that intimately involved in the process.”

Publicly, Whitmarsh is not worried about the situation, describing Eddie Jordan’s claims that Hamilton is definitely switching to Mercedes to replace Michael Schumacher as “fantasy”.

“It’s a small paddock and they (Hamilton’s management) have to be seen to do their due diligence, as you can imagine, so I’m not surprised,” he said.

Under the surface, though, the situation inside McLaren has changed. One hint is that Button is now point-blank refusing to fall in line behind Hamilton by obeying any ‘team orders’.

“I’m not going to go out and pedal round and sit behind my teammate,” he said.

Whitmarsh agrees.

“At the moment, the dynamics are right within the team and it will be some time before we change our approach,” he said.

Should Hamilton leave, Scot di Resta looks the favourite to replace him. He would ensure McLaren keeps its ‘all-British’ lineup, and his career is already handled by Button’s manager Richard Goddard.

Asked if McLaren has targeted di Resta as a potential driver, Button told the Telegraph: “That is not for me to say, that is for his management to say.”

The Daily Mail has mentioned 2008 and 2009 McLaren driver Kovalainen as another candidate, while the wilder rumour-mongers have named another Finn.

But Finnish commentator for MTV3, Oskari Saari, thinks the speculation about Williams’ reserve driver Valtteri Bottas is wide of the mark.

On the other hand, “Williams knows that if they do not take Valtteri (in 2013), there will be takers for him from other teams”, he warned.