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How McLaren turned a dog into a winner
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How McLaren turned a dog into a winner
Posted By: James Allen  |  08 Aug 2009   |  6:41 pm GMT  |  18 comments

“No one needed this win more than me,” said McLaren Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh in the immediate aftermath of the win in Budapest.

We were standing in the McLaren motorhome, with Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ pumping out of the stereo. A pressure release valve had popped off and the team was in the mood for celebration.

The team has changed a lot in tone since Whitmarsh took over. There is always a cool playlist on the go whenever you go into their hospitality area, concocted by music loving press officer Steve Cooper. The air of tension which always hung over the team when Dennis was around has palpably lifted, albeit there has been plenty of pressure on Whitmarsh personally this year.

He took over and almost immediately the team had got itself into a mess over misleading the Melbourne stewards. They threw themselves on the FIA’s mercy and with Dennis permanently removed from the scene, they went unpunished.

Since then Whitmarsh has found himself being pulled in different directions with the need to commit significant time to the FOTA cause, which was time he wasn’t spending on making McLaren stronger.

There was pressure from sponsors, who were not happy with the team’s lack of competitiveness. They still have to get their place back at the front of the grid next season, but this was a welcome boost in a season which looked pretty dire.

McLaren has been experimenting with producing viral videos this season, which is a great idea and one I’m all in favour of.

Next season USF1 will take this to a whole new level with regular video posts from their HQ co-ordinated by You Tube guru and major USF1 investor Chad Hurley. The others will have to sharpen up a lot when that team gets started.

McLaren’s efforts are still a bit straight and stodgy and frankly a bit too corporate to really work.

Nevertheless they are to be encouraged and the latest one is a look at how the team turned the 2009 car from a dog which was 2.5 seconds off the pace at the Barcelona test in early March into a winner at Budapest.

Take a look and see what you think. Click on this link:

VIDEO: Whitmarsh talks turkey

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18 Comments
  1. Andy Gibson says:

    I’m yet to be convinced that McLaren have made such a huge step as is being suggested. The last 2 races since they apparently made the huge step forward have both been tight and twisty circuits where the car worked anyway.

    At Monaco when the car was undoubtedly a dog Lewis was still well in contention for a podium position until he blew it in quali by throwing it in the barriers. Based on that, McLaren were always going to be competitive at Hungary as it is so similar. The win was impressive, no doubt, but only a small step from the Monaco speed. And some of that was Brawn going backwards I am sure.

    At the German GP performance, when Lewis had the big upgrade and Heikki did not, there was not a huge gap in performance between the two as would be expected if there was such a big step as they claim.

    I am sure that they have made a step forward, and will be competitive at Valencia as it is tight again, but we won’t know until Spa the reality of how good the “new” car is. When it is on a fast open circuit I think we’ll see them struggle to get into Quali 3 again.

  2. bonnie b says:

    Iam glad Martin Whitmarsh won,but please keep working hard to get better,Dont do anything
    stupid like change the paint scheme of the
    car and make it look bad like Renault,
    Ron Dennis may had problems, but he turned this
    company into a billion dollar company.Remember
    this is Mclaren not the Lewis Hamilton show
    hire Nico Rosberg has a driver to keep pressure
    on Lewis to let him know this not his company

  3. Ted the Mechanic says:

    James, when are we likely to see another US Grand Prix? Has the change in management at Indianapolis Motor Speedway made it more or lees likely that F1 will return there?

    I hope USF1 is putting together a strong team and that they are able to add their voice to the FOTA alliance without any hangover from their FIA-assisted entry onto the grid.

    It seems the only way F1 will get back to the market where the manufacturer-based teams really want to be is if FOTA continues to apply pressure to CVC and Bernie. USF1 should help in this respect.

    One last question. Realistically, how much longer do you think Bernie will be able to wield his considerable influence over the business of the sport? He seems to have the constitution of an ox, the tenacity of a rabid terrier and the guile and cunning of a wily old farmyard-fettled fox…

  4. Harveyeight says:

    I’m with Andy as far as one swallow is concerned. The series of videos seems heavily scripted and one would assume it’s the sort of stuff that would be shown to potential sponsors.

    I was surprised that they made such a big thing about the massive changes for Germany: front wing, top body and ‘floor’ (diffuser?). That strikes me as a wee bit desperate. I thought the principle of continuous improvement demanded one change at a time in order to asses its usefulness.

    It was a stunning revelation that Ron Dennis is a poor loser. Cor! You live and learn.

    Neale’s comment about just a new front tyre requiring major modifications to the car for next season does, I suppose, show what they had to do for the biggest rule change in 20 years.

    I’ve got to say that last year’s decision to concentrate on winning the WDC was a good one. If you were in a planning meeting on whether to go for the double diffuser, then the question as to the liklihood of it being banned by the FiA if McLaren had it and some other teams didn’t would have meant they would start with the single diffuser. Hopefully from now on McLaren will be able to take a risk or two.

    The videos were all very corporate, all very bland. A bit like eating bran except not quite so filling.

    Andy suggests that we won’t know until Spa how good the car is. I disagree in some ways. I think we won’t know until Spa how good the car is at Spa. If the McLaren is capable of winning races at some circuits then it is a good car. Whilst all teams strive to make their cars to answer the demands of each and every track, the problem is that to chase this dream would mean massive compromises.

    What the videos does is to show how much relief there must have been when FOTA finally got some stability in the regs. The flicking from one formula to another on a whim was rather ridiculous. It is almost as if the FiA/Mosley wanted to put up costs and force the teams to pay for research that would have no long-term benefits.

    As for McLaren: what a difference a win makes.

    How much is KERS though? They are the only team to make it work. Ferrari use theirs to stop others overaking. McLaren, or at least Lewis, uses it to win.

  5. BrightMinds says:

    Welldone to McLaren for turning a pig into a race winner. As Whitmarsh said – making this level of development in a season of no testing is a fantastic achievement.

    Their PR really could do with improving though. Viral marketing needs short, snappy and amusing videos. Renault’s God save the Queen is typical and very good. McLaren however seem to want to make a documentary with a very formal interview with their key people. Interesting for the F1 addict but overall rather dull and…formal.

  6. Buttoneer says:

    McLaren did not go unpunished, they had what was otherwise an excellent result wiped.

  7. Stuart Whitman says:

    I think McLaren along with Ferrari are the only temas who have the resources to do this. Whilst I’m not convinced it will be competitive at the rest of the circuits this year I’m amazed at the defecit they’ve been able to make up. Its not just the 2.5 seconds from the start of the season its also the development since Melbourne. I also think its fairly obvious they spent a lot of time and money (60 million USD I read somewhere) on KERS which with hindsight probably wasn’t the best thing to do.

  8. guy says:

    Nice channel. I particularly liked the MP4/4 footage. Last year before the night race in Singapore, there was a video of Martin Whitmarsh talking about updates for the race. The camera turned to the car and there was a row of headlights mounted on the front wing.

    I found it quite funny, more so however, coming from McLaren of all teams…

  9. Cridland [CridComment @ gmail] says:

    There’s nothing “viral” about them at all; quite the opposite! This is exactly the sort of thing that would make a excitement-hungry teenager turn off his computer in disgust.

    I watched these pieces earlier in the week and was profoundly disappointed. They’re the mundane, dessicated rhetoric you get when a PR guy is running the camera.

    • I think McLaren headquarters is one of the most interesting buildings in Britain, but we don’t get a good look at any of it! (Watching carefully I think I saw the reflection of the cooling lake in one shot, and am proud of my eagle eye.)

    • But to Hell with the building, we don’t even see the cars on the inside of it! We don’t see any parts splayed open on a workbench. We don’t see any exotic materials, like Lewis Hamilton’s famous gold-plated accelerator footpedal, the one with the little Pussycat Dolls logo stamped on it.

    • But to Hell with the cars, we don’t see any of the tools used to build them, either. We don’t see a wind tunnel. We don’t see a futuristic rack of networked computer blades or and graphics displays. We don’t even see a funny-shaped hammer on a titanium workbench.

    • But to Hell with the machinery, we don’t see any people! There are no technicians to recognize, no one to keep an eye on during return visits. We don’t all dream of being Martin Whitmarsh when we grow up. Did anyone notice Gino Rosato hanging out with Coulthard during the coverage from Hungary a couple weeks ago?

    • But to Hell with human beings, we don’t even get a mood ! All we get is repetitions of the “We saw on week 11…” bullet point. Could a media release be any stingier? Listen, I didn’t expect to be Heiki’s new best new beerdrinking friend after watching those videos, but come on, give me something. Anything. I loaded those videos hoping for a striptease, and would have been satisfied if the “girls” had stopped in their underwear… But they never even unbuttoned the jacket, let alone pulled off the turtleneck.

    Formula One is pathetically tone deaf. It’s a constant source of amazement to me that Nascar with so much less technology, sophistication, and beauty to offer is so very much better at sharing warm personality.

    1. BrightMinds says:

      You hit the nail perfectly there!

    2. Rudy Pyatt says:

      It’s McLaren. For them, this IS loosening up. How far they can, or will, go remains to be seen. I’m not suggesting that McLaren get all happy-happy-joy-joy like Jordan, Red Bull or (at least that first year at Indy) Arrows. But it’s good to see them trying to warm up. They’ll do themselves a world of good to get beyond that cold, corporate, ruthless, inhuman (hmmm, Star Trek anyone? “We are the Borg. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”) vibe they’ve given off for so long. Kinda like F1 needs to do generally…

  10. ade says:

    Is there any truth to the rumour that Mercedes Benz are pulling out of F1 in 2010, James?

    1. James Allen says:

      Not that I’ve heard of. They are 40% shareholders of McLaren.

    2. Andy Gibson says:

      That rumour came from F1-Live.com. Enough said.

    3. Cridland [CridComment @ gmail] says:

      Their engines have taken seven of ten victories this season, with three of them on a single motor. The marketing boys can’t complain too much….

  11. Arch says:

    Did anyone say they were supposed to be ‘viral’, that’s an entirely different category … the aforementioned headlamps, the blutooth ‘controlled’ race-car, maybe the lewis/heikki taxi-cab one … they were virals, to be posted and reposted.

    These were communications from some of the key engineers and managers responsible for the MP4-24 turnaround, and are not meant to be faux RedBull ‘zany’ … just an excellent chance for fans to get some information and a little bit of the back-story from those involved. It is what it is. Being professional is absolutely appropriate in that case.

    Good to see Pat Fry, i bet he’s been under some serious pressure this year, a few more gray hairs.

    More McLaren video, Hungary debrief:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrrPP96f1L4

  12. David says:

    Agree with Cridland (comment #9)!

    Also … Heikki Kovalainen? Heikki who?

    Yes, he did drift through one sequence (I think), but you need the eagle eyes of a Cridland to notice him.

  13. Andy says:

    I wouldn’t bother watching these unless you’re a hardcore McLaren fan.

    I dozed off during the first one, and gave up halfway through the second. I should’ve known better – it IS McLaren after all. Too sterile, emotionless and politically correct.

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