McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh has outlined the reasons why his team should remain very upbeat about its prospects this season, the team principal highlighting several positives amid a succession of missed chances – including what he believes is the advent of a more measured approach to racing from Lewis Hamilton.
The Woking-based outfit arrived at the first race of the season having hit its long-held target of having a car capable of winning the first grand prix but since locking out the front row at the second round in Malaysia its race performances have been compromised by a string of team errors and difficulties fully exploiting Pirelli’s tyres. Despite still arguably having the fastest overall package – particularly in Hamilton’s hands in qualifying – the team still finds itself in the now familiar position of trailing Red Bull in both world championships.
Speaking on the eve of the team’s attempts to get back to winning ways in Monaco – where it has won a record 15 times – Whitmarsh told reporters in a Vodafone phone-in that he was “very frustrated” by the team’s failure to fully capitalise on the MP4-27’s outright pace to date but that “rather than focus on the frustration you’ve got to look forward to the opportunity”.
That opportunity Whitmarsh believes is a first drivers’ championship since 2008, and a first constructors’ title since 1998, and the driver currently best placed in the points to deliver the former, Hamilton has earned the praise of his team boss for his performances in the regular face of adversity so far this season. Like Fernando Alonso, the 2008 champion has scored points in all five races despite suffering from botched pit stops in both Malaysia and Bahrain and then, most embarrassingly of all for the team, relegation to the back of the grid in Spain for a qualifying fuel infringement. Whitmarsh has clearly been impressed by his driver’s growing on-track maturity.
“In many ways the last race was disappointing for the team, but I think Lewis did come away from that event with a very strong feeling about what he’s achieved this year. Through no fault of his own, I think he had a very severe penalty levelled against him. To then be asked by the team to run a two-stop strategy and ultimately have to complete a race with such controlled and measured tyre conservation, including 31 laps more laps than any other driver on a tyre there, I think he should come away with a feeling that ,one, he has a car that is capable of being on pole, two he has the speed and capabilities to be on pole – he has been on the front row at every race – and he’s driving to I think greater levels of maturity and control and discipline than perhaps we’ve seen before.”
Hamilton’s failure to win a race so far in 2012, particularly at Barcelona, can be attributed to the pit-lane errors by the team. Whitmarsh says the team can’t afford to become complacent going forward, even if he believes measures have been put in place to avoid a repeat of the same slip-ups.
“I’m confident that the issues that we have so far have been dealt with and are in the past,” he said. “I’m mindful that in the pressure of trying to win in Formula 1, there are always new things that can come and bite you. So we have to be vigilant, careful and cautious.”