McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale today said that talk of team principal Martin Whitmarsh being at risk of losing his job is laughable and underlined that the team wants to secure the services not only of Whitmarsh but of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button as well for the long term.
It’s been a turbulent period for McLaren, with suggestions that both drivers have made enquiries about opportunities at Red Bull, Lewis Hamilton saying that he’s not willing to do as much sponsor promotional work and then a messy British GP weekend, where Jenson Button’s race was ruined by a pit stop error and Hamilton was out on a risky strategy which meant he had to slow down excessively later in the race to save fuel.
After the weekend there were suggestions in the newspapers that Whitmarsh’s job was on the line. Clearly there are some outside forces piling pressure on Whitmarsh, trying to destabilise his team and also his role as chairman of the Formula One Teams Association ahead of the upcoming Concorde Agreement negotiations. But there is no sense coming from McLaren insiders that Whitmarsh is on thin ice. Former team boss Ron Dennis has moved on to road cars now, a key growth area for McLaren for the future and there is no obvious successor agitating in the background.
“Martin has done a fantastic job for McLaren and FOTA, up until last weekend we were the only ones putting up a credible fight against Red Bull,” said Neale during a Vodafone phone in session with F1 sites this morning. “I think a lot of people behind us on the grid, whilst they might be looking at the heat we get in the press, wouldn’t mind a bit of the action we get.
“I’m afraid it’s just part of the media circus and expectation, caught in the home Grand Prix if you’ve got to deliver and we didn’t, you’ve got to expect a bit of comeback.
“We want Martin, Lewis and Jenson here for the long term.”
There have been suggestions that Whitmarsh’s role as chairman of FOTA has led to him occasionally taking his eye off the ball at Woking. Neale denied this and said that Whitmarsh has juggled his two responsibilities so successfully that he’s been asked to do a second year at the FOTA helm, for which he must have had the blessing of McLaren shareholders and sponsors.
When I asked him to reveal the succession plan for the McLaren team principal role, he declined.
“We look forward to the return to the Valencia regulations this weekend,” said Neale. “We are not complacent about the progress that Ferrari has made on its car,” he added. “They have made steady progress over the last few races.”