McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh admitted he was feeling the pressure, but was not fearful for his future after the team experienced a hugely-disappointing and error-strewn weekend at the British Grand Prix.
Whitmarsh, who took over as McLaren team principal in succession to Ron Dennis two years ago, said the combination of under-fuelling Briton Lewis Hamilton’s car and failing to fit a wheel properly during a pit-stop on compatriot Jenson Button’s car had left him feeling down.
“It was not one of the best Grands Prix I have ever had,” he said. “We didn’t want to let the fans down and we did.”
In a torrid season of frustration and inconsistency, McLaren have registered just two wins — one apiece for the drivers — but have struggled in a title race dominated by Red Bull and their defending champion German Sebastian Vettel.
At Silverstone, Button qualified fifth and Hamilton was 10th after a strategy error left him without a chance to beat a rain shower and clock a faster lap time. In the race, both were undone by further team errors.
In the circumstances, it has been no surprise to most paddock observers that Hamilton has been linked with a move to Red Bull or elsewhere next season and that Button, also, has been said to be frustrated.
For a team that has grown up fighting for titles with great drivers and champions like Frenchman Alain Prost, Brazilian Ayrton Senna and Finn Mika Hakkinnen, not to mention Hamilton’s 2008 triumph, it is clear that standards have fallen.
Whitmarsh said of Hamilton’s plight, when he had to conserve fuel in the closing laps and slipped away from a potential podium finish, “for a racing driver, it is hard to save fuel. It’s counter-intuitive to be told to slow down. The car also becomes harder to drive as the tyres and the brakes cool down.”
Whitmarsh admitted that he felt the strain.
But he said: “I am confident that I will stay in my job. I answer to the board, not just to Ron [Dennis, chairperson of the McLaren Group]. And they seem happy with the job I’m doing.
“For now, anyway. I have been here for 23 years and worked with Ron for 23 years. Some people thought I was a clone of Ron, but I am not. We do have an interesting relationship — we have ups and downs — but it is strong at the moment.
“And I am hard on myself — even harder than you guys in the press are on me. But doing the job I am doing is an addiction. And success in F1 is cyclical. We are judged by high standards at this team and that’s something I welcome.”
If it is not yet a crisis for McLaren, there was a sense of high tension during the Silverstone weekend as Hamilton, in dazzling form, made his way from 10th to fourth and fought off Brazilian Felipe Massa of Ferrari in wheel-banging style at the final corner.
His head may be turned by rival teams — though Red Bull appear more keen to keep Australian Mark Webber than bring Hamilton in as teammate to Germany’s defending champion Sebastian Vettel — but his father Anthony, also his former manager, believes he should, and will, stay at the team he joined as 12-year-old.
“My advice to Lewis would be to stay,” he said. “At McLaren, he has an opportunity to bring everybody together rather than pull them apart.” — AFP