McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh believes the performance the team showed in the two races immediately prior to the summer break has set it up to have a real crack at both world championship titles over the remainder of the season.
The Woking squad had looked in danger of being cut adrift in the battle for the drivers’ championship in particular after disappointing race performances in Valencia and Silverstone but a big upgrade for the German Grand Prix provided a much-needed breakthrough with Jenson Button finishing second there and Lewis Hamilton then winning the following weekend in Hungary.
Hamilton is in the group of four drivers within two race victories of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, with the team back into second place in the constructors’ standings, and on the eve of the season resuming Whitmarsh is confident McLaren is right in the hunt.
“We had a couple of good races before the break. Since then we’ve continued to push hard to develop our car,” he told journalists in a Vodafone phone-in. “We’ve passed the half-way point of the season but the season is incredibly open.
“Fernando and Ferrari have done a good job to be where they are but with nine races to go with the performance we were showing going into the break then we should be focused on winning more races and still very focused on the championships. I think everyone recognises they are wide open and certainly we are in contention.”
With races at high-speed Spa and Monza always neccessitating new wing packages, Whitmarsh says the MP4-27 will feature visual differences from this weekend but has denied speculation that a Mercedes-style double DRS device will appear on the car – admitting developing such a system hadn’t been at the top of the team’s priorities.
“I think you’ll see in the next couple of races [that] the majority of cars will have new wings. You’ll certainly see that on the McLaren,” he admitted. “At any one moment, as you would imagine, [we have] a wide variety of development projects ongoing and the double DRS is interesting. It hasn’t received the maximum amount of resource, we’ve got a finite amount of resource and we try and spend it where we get the biggest bang for our buck and our judgement so far is that we’ve been able to find other projects that deserve that resource and we’ve had a greater performance return from.
“I think there are other variants of it starting to be seen so they might not all follow a pattern that we saw on the Mercedes, which was innovative. But we’re not announcing when, where or if we’re going to introduce it. I think people will see different wing variants, certainly on our car, and you’ll see a number of other visual items on our car [at Spa]. So McLaren will not have a double DRS in Belgium.”
Whitmarsh also said that, despite trailing Hamilton by 41 points and overall leader Alonso by 88 points, Jenson Button was still free to go for wins as normal – although admitted that the situation would be reassessed in several races’ time.
“There may well come a point [when they have to evoke team orders] but I think with nine races to go if you look at the number of points, 25 points per race win, things can change quite quickly. McLaren’s prided itself on going into each season giving both drivers equal opportunity to win races and the championship and therefore we’ve got to be measured about when we talk to those drivers about putting their support behind another driver,” he said.
“So we go into what I hope is going to be a very exciting Belgian Grand Prix and I can assure you that both of our drivers will be trying to win that race and we will be doing everything we can to give both of them the opportunity to have a go at it. I think it’ll be quite a few races time [before] we look at the situation and we’ll make a decision then.”
Following talks over the summer break, Whitmarsh also added that he expected Hamilton’s future at the team to be resolved in “fairly short order”.