A return to winning ways?
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Sam Michael on trying to counter Red Bull’s surge and getting on top of reliability
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Sam Michael XPB
Posted By: James Allen  |  24 Oct 2012   |  12:13 pm GMT  |  46 comments

McLaren sporting director Sam Michael believes it is possible for the team to take the fight to Red Bull over the remaining races and says nothing changes in the team’s approach to the end of the season despite its championship challenge being effectively over.

Since Lewis Hamilton’s gearbox failed while leading in Singapore a month ago Red Bull has not been toppled from the top of the order in either qualifying or the race while in contrast McLaren have suffered a run of reliability problems with both of its cars.

That run of results has laid the platform for Red Bull to go on and retain both world championships but Michael is certain McLaren’s rival will have it far from all its own way between India and Brazil.

“Red Bull have won the last three and there’s some circumstances that lent to us not being able to do that reliability-wise within all those races and getting on top of those issues quickly is something that we’ve done,” he told journalists in a Vodafone phone-in.

“In terms of where they are for the next four, they’re quick different circuits. Red Bull took a good step across Singapore and Suzuka in terms of performance so they are tough competitors. But our target is still to beat them and there is no reason why not.

“The thing is the gaps are very small so it only takes one or two tenths to swing one way to another and that can be driven off a development of theirs working or another team not bringing enough. It can swing from one way to another and it’s great for everyone watching grand prix racing, it just makes our life very difficult. We believe we can the challenge to them in these last four races.”

Although declining to elaborate what specific upgrades McLaren had in the pipeline for the final back-to-back rounds, Michael said that the call to continuing developing the MP4-27 right through to Brazil was a “pretty straightforward decision” given the relatively stable regulations over the winter.

He also denied that the battle to get on top of its recent reliability problems – the team has only a 64% finishing record with its two cars in the last seven races compared with both Ferrari and Red Bull’s 86% – had taken away from time spent focusing on the development of the car.

“Sometimes it can do if you have something that’s endemic but in the case of the problems we’ve had this year, no it hasn’t had any impact on the way we’ve performed [with the development],” Michael insisted.

Indeed he made clear that McLaren’s desire to win every race they enter was undiminished for the final month of the campaign: “I don’t think it changes anything because you don’t really plan anything differently. You turn up at a grand prix circuit and our target at McLaren is to win every race and we do our best to achieve that.

“So you don’t make any decisions, whether it’s set-up or it’s strategy or development parts, to either put you at risk or not finish the race or don’t bring maximum performance to the car regardless of where you are in the world championship. So it really doesn’t change anything: we’re turning up and trying to finish first and second in the last four races.”

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46 Comments
  1. Did he say anything about Hamilton leaving and what this meant for the development of the car?

    1. Wayne says:

      “You turn up at a grand prix circuit and our target at McLaren is to win every race and we do our best to achieve that.”

      Shame their target isn’t to win every WDC they enter and have them do their best to do that. They might well hold on to the likes of Alonso and Hamilton then. Alonso did not leave because Hamilton beat him, he left because what the team did that year did not make sense and this led to masses of frustration. Hamilton is not leaving for a challenge elsewhere, he is leaving because, well, he might as well if he wants to win championships rather than just a handful of races per year for the rest of his career. He needs to try something different.

      And, before people say ‘well if you aim to win every race you will aim to win the WDC’ – it doesn’t work like that. At some point in the season a team needs to be less worried about just winning a race and more worried about marshalling their resources in the most effective and efficient manner possible to win the wdc.

      1. JF says:

        You are suggesting team orders, which is something that I agree with, along the lines of Ferraris philosophy of racing for the team not for yourself. Clearly, not everyone thinks this way (obvious).

      2. grat says:

        I think you’ve hit on why they can’t win the Constructor’s title. They seem to always run a split strategy to cover the bases, but it usually means one driver does well, and one does poorly.

        It’s a conservative strategy, but it keeps either driver from accumulating enough points to challenge Vettel or Alonso, and keeps the team from accumulating enough points to win the WCC title.

      3. On this point, I wonder if it has also been an issue developing a car for two very different driving styles

      4. Siddle says:

        Absolutely right! Not for the first time spot on.

        S

      5. Joel says:

        With Lewis leaving, McLaren knows that their quest for WCC will be severly compromised next season – hence the push for WCC this year.

    2. Rob says:

      Sam Michaels at Williams, Williams a disaster. Sam Michaels at McLaren things start to go down hill, but Williams are improving. Just saying………!

  2. Did he say anything about Hamilton leaving and what this means for the development of the car?

  3. Grant says:

    If you say so Mr Sam Michael.

  4. Oli says:

    Surely as they are out of both championships this year would it not make more sense to start work on developing next years car?

    1. Luca says:

      whatever is put on this years car can pretty much be carrie dover to next years car, as the rules are not changing that much. So why not do it now.

      Plus they can still pip Ferrair to 2nd in the constructors – and that will get them more prize money, so there is enough motivation for that alone to warrant the development.

    2. Optimaximal says:

      There’s very little need, because next years car will be largely identical. They’ve not implemented any DRS-related funnies, so they won’t have to remove them and rebalance the car.

  5. Richard says:

    I think the operational errors and reliability issues McLaren have had this year must have made Lewis Hamilton’s decision to move to Mercedes easier. While McLaren do enjoy success on a fairly regular basis it is not consistent enough to win a closely fought championship that we currently have. History has shown they have not been good enough to win a constructors championship for quite some time, perhaps they have become too corporate in their approach, certainly they could learn something from the way Red Bull run their team.

    1. Grant says:

      They can certainly learn a lot from Red Bull.

    2. MISTER says:

      And Mercedes didn’t had problems this year? Check Schumi’s car!

      1. Richard says:

        The article is about McLaren not Mercedes so the comment is about them. Yes Mercedes need an almighty step forward to be competitive, but I think Hamilton frustration with Mclaren has been evident for some time. I think he has to try something else……..

      2. Elie says:

        The Mclaren issue isn’t the car it’s how they manage their trackside operations and their drivers. Clearly they always have a car compettive enough to win the championship but stuff up strategies or pit stops or they set up cars to suit drivers who are not capable of winning…it’s no wonder Lewis is leaving– as a driver their can be nothing more frustrating.

    3. Chris says:

      I also agree they could learn a thing or two from Redbull, a fizzy drinks company that has only been around for 7 years. Fair play to them.

      1. Richard says:

        While Red Bull Racing have only been around for a short time relatively, the people in it are really experienced, and know what counts.

  6. Richard Mee says:

    Well there must certainly be reasons why McLaren have not won the development race this year… having had a relatively strong start.

    If it is SM’s job to determine what those reasons are, and how to rectify them, is there any evidence to suggest he is up to it?

    As an admitted stark-outsider; McLaren have the appearance of being in a slight rut post-Ron – so scared of losing that they cannot win – and a group of expensive Senior-level ‘doing-okayers’ essentially securing each other’s positions.

    As a McLaren fan I wouldn’t be adverse to see some more maverick influence at the top of the team and some clear risks being taken at the end of this season.

    1. Tony says:

      Agree completely. Pleased I didn’t have to sit through that call, lots of words, little content.

      “… there’s some circumstances that lent to us not being able to do that reliability-wise within all those races ” .. too much circumlocution and empty management speak.

      I can’t see Christian Horner saying anything other than “we were’nt reliabe enough, we didn’t do a good enough job” in the same circumstances.

      If fixing these issues requires clarity of thought, communication and prioritisation then on this evidence Sam isn’t the new broom they need in Woking.

    2. AuraF1 says:

      Is SM up to the job? Well the pit stop fiascos before he was active which turned into the fastest ever recurring pit crew ever could count as some evidence in his favour? Admittedly he’s not fixed everything but he’s responsible for the racing team not the factory engineering issues.

      As for Red Bull – they will always improve through the season because they have a fixed process and two advantages – they are called Adrian Newey and a near unlimited budget. It also helps that they have one defining philosophy – build a car that corners fast, increase quali performance, run away with it despite a (usually until recently) slower straight line power speed package.

      McLaren seem to be trying to build the perfect car – it’s still very Ron style – aim for perfection but forget that it’s impossible and will generally end up with weaknesses.

      Red bulls cars are far from perfect – they just build to one goal, qualify seb in front, build a gap, remain uncatchable. Mclaren could do with less perfectionism and more focus on a winning style. Now Hamilton is gone they need to just build a car that suits jenson. When the car suits him he can qualify ahead and we know jenson is a better racer than a qualifier.

      1. Richard Mee says:

        I agree with you.

        Again as an outsider it seems that Whitmarsh et al can run the team… so long as they run it precisely how Ron would.

        If they can’t run it their way I don’t see the point, Ron should just come back (as would be his right IMO because I’m still pretty disgusted by the way he was forced to leave) – but then on current form McLaren can nearly win the CC for another 10-odd years…

      2. AuraF1 says:

        Ron Dennis removed himself to be honest. If you read some of the interviews with him, his family and his Mclaren group did actually want him to step back. But as even he says, he’s an absolutely obsessive compulsive personality. He either should come back fully, or step back entirely. No corporation works well when the structure is not clear to people. Ron will one day say Martin Whitmarsh is completely the boss and he can’t overrule him – and then he won’t be able to help himself and will say something. The signals coming out around the Lewis negotiations were very odd, even for those who have a bit of an understanding of the McLaren atmosphere.

        I know Whitmarsh gets a vast amount of stick on these forums (often from the Hamilton fans [mod] ) but I wouldn’t want to be in his position. Even Ron says he’s not an easy man to live with.

        But I’d agree, either he should step back up and take direct control as he so clearly wants to (even though his family wouldn’t want him to) or he steps back fully and stops coming to races entirely and focuses on the McLaren group corporate and has no say in the racing side.

  7. Chris says:

    Oli

    The rules and reg for next year are practically the same hence carrying on with the development.

  8. Chris says:

    James:

    WE all know Lewis likes his cars to be frisky and a bit tail happy, and Jenson the opposite, how does Sergio have his set up? Guessing the same as Jenson, do you think this will do Mclaren a favour in the sense of they can develop the car in the same direction?

    1. Martin says:

      Hi Chris,

      I my view this is confusing race engineering and design development. I also believe that all racing drivers want a neutral handling balance that is very stable.

      When we saw Hamilton getting the rear of the car to step out under braking early in his career what was he doing? He was countering turn-in understeer. If you have a strong oversteer bias you end up driving like Alonso in 2005-06 in artifically generating turn-in understeer to get some overall balance mid corner.

      Fundamentally, Hamilton has more skills to manipulate a car to get around problem characteristics than Button. Compared to qualifying Hamilton will take front wing out for the race as looking after the rear tyres fundamentally influeces the overall result.

      In terms of car development, you are always looking for more downforce and more efficient downforce. McLaren is not thinking we will add more rear downforce because Button needs it – Hamilton will also use the extra performance.

      What happens at the track is the race engineering. This is all about getting as close to theoretical performance of the car as possible for a given circuit and temperature conditions. Different drivers want different things depending on their adaptability. Minor adjustments to wing levels, tyre pressures, dampers, toe-in, camber, etc, create differences between the drivers. If a car has poor traction the most effective fix is more downforce. If a car has poor traction then yes it is an aerodynamic priority to add more downforce at the rear, but more downforce will make every car faster, so there is hardly any change. It is very rare that a new aerodynamic piece fixes a driver’s problem, unless it is a huge change such as the new McLaren front wing at Germany in 2009 where the McLaren went from the back in the UK to winning in Hungary in two races. It is almost always a chassis set up issue.

      Cheers,
      Martin

      1. Chris says:

        Thanks Martin :)
        Shame to see Lewis go, but think with the Mclaren being so unreliable….

        Lets all hope its for the best.

      2. Phillip H says:

        “I also believe that all racing drivers want a neutral handling balance that is very stable.”

        Not strictly true. Schumacher was fond of a tail-happy on the edge of traction car, because it was quicker in his opinion.

      3. Martin says:

        I haven’t seen the quote, but the context of what I was writing was a theoretical ideal, not what practically occurs.

        In qualifying, drivers usuall favour having no understeer on turn in as as following the right line is the first step to a good lap time.

        Long term, any more than slight turn in oversteer will tend to end up with destroyed tyres.

        On corner exit, you can have cars that will power understeer with weight transfer to the rear and relatively soft rear suspension or rear roll bars. A car that will power oversteer in the way Schumacher is describing (not the Clarkson-style doing a burnout while turning, or real drifting with the front tyres also working), gives the driver more options to change the line if the car has other issues. In a perfect car this isn’t necessary.

        A book you might like to look up is Michael Krumm’s Driving on the Edge. To me it made quite a few interesting points about driving, and as he has run succesfully in several categories, he gies many good examples. One area that I wish he wrote more on what go karting as the braking will be different with only the rear wheels.

  9. nns27 says:

    And they will going to suffer even more next year which will most likely see even more competetive field then this year unless they come up with a dominant car.

  10. Becken says:

    Again, McLaren seems to be more reactive than active in resolving its own deficiencies.

    It was this way with pit stops, development and even with Lewis´s contract.

    They seems to be always in the back foot…

    I´m will not point the finger to Martin —I know he is doing a great job as Team Principle since Ron left — but there’s something fundamentally wrong with capital decisions in Woking.

    Anyway, I think it´s too late to gain anything this year — or maybe learn how to build a solid team with Ferrari, who’s is going fight for this championship with a poor car until the end.

    1. Grant says:

      Interesting point about Lewis’ contract:
      1st ‘Lewis must be realistic and accept pay cut’,
      then they make a last minute offer highest in grid. Bazaar :D

      1. Peter C says:

        Bazaar? Is that the ‘driver market’?

  11. Simple says:

    Pretty standard PR speak. We will do better, we’re doing everything we can to improve, we aim to win the next race, we’re confident we can catch up. The title is still in reach. Said everyone except Red Bull. Blah blah blah.

  12. JB HAM says:

    I used to love reading Sam Michael’s interviews when he was at Williams; he was always very open, almost to a fault. You could get all those little details of how the team works, how the car works, the strategies the drivers, all the little micromanagement snippets. But now, it seem Mclaren has put a tight muzzle on him.

  13. colin grayson says:

    what’s a quick different circuit james ?
    is this an australian expression?

  14. Gul says:

    Mclaren have handed the WDC to Vettel/Alonso and WCC RB/ Ferrari. I wont even mention the Lewis saga. Congratulations Mclaren…again just a runner up.

    1. Bring Back Murray says:

      I wouldn’t disagree with that comment

  15. Janis says:

    Frankly,
    he didn’t tell us anything. Just a collection of standard polished PR phrases: we will go on developing the car, new parts coming, will try to win them all.
    Just why is it that McLaren-speak is always so sterile?

    1. Phillip H says:

      McLaren speak is so sterile because that is the environment they work in. I have had dealings with McLaren and they have gone from my favourite team to one of my least favourite.

      Robotic clones who mumble corporatese technobabble and have a serious superiority complex and this was junior management.

      Just my own experiences folks, don’t get mad.

      Sam Michael – forgot he had gone to Mc, to be honest. He said nothing of worth in this interview.

      McLaren by their own (lack of) reliability and awful pitstops have shot themselves in the foot even before the question of team orders arises.

      1. Mitchel says:

        The things is, it’s all bias which feeds these perceptions though, isn’t it?

        For all McLaren’s sterile, corporate image, it is they who have the more swashbuckling, gung-ho, ‘let’s win every race’ attitude.

        Contrast this with Ferrari’s ultra conservative, highly reliable, team-first-at-all-costs attitude!

        And when it comes to robot clones and sterility, isn’t that how one could perceive Kimi? Yet people know interview Kimi is not the real Kimi! The same goes for the team managers. The only guys in F1 who throw caution to wind are Bernie, Luca DeMont and (formerly) Flavio……and they are perhaps not the best company to keep, are they?

      2. Mitchel says:

        Sorry, completely overlooked the fact that you say you had personal dealings with them!

        That said, it all depends on what your dealings with them have been, and who else in Formula One you have dealt with to compare them with?

  16. clyde says:

    Hmmm seems similar to the lines he dished out at Wiliams .

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