LONDON // Martin Whitmarsh has officially taken over from Ron Dennis as the McLaren team principal with the immediate task of helping Lewis Hamilton become the first British driver to retain the Formula One title. Dennis announced at the launch of the new McLaren MP4-24 car in January that he would stand down as principal on March 1 after 28 years in the role. The Briton, 61, will continue as McLaren's executive chairman, among other responsibilities, and has said that he has no thought of retirement.
Whitmarsh, the former team chief executive, has been at McLaren since 1989, when they had the Brazilian Ayrton Senna and the Frenchman Alain Prost as their formidable line-up. "I've been trying for 20 years to win races and championships, but I have to say I feel an extra zing this time," he said. "I want my first win as team principal and my first world championship more than I realised. And I certainly don't want to be the man who fails to deliver the championship for Lewis Hamilton."
Since his arrival at the Woking factory, the Mercedes-powered team have won four constructors' championships and six drivers' titles including Hamilton's first last year. "Ron and I have common views, but I am not an identikit of him," he said. "On the fundamental issues of how to go motor racing we are very similar in how we approach things." Whitmarsh said Hamilton, who beat Ferrari's Felipe Massa to the title by a single point in the Brazilian season-ender in November, had been "battle-hardened" like no other driver.
"He just wants to prove he can become a multiple world champion, but there is no longer the pressure there was on him until he won the title at the last race of last season," he added. "If you sit with him now, you do sense someone who has the confidence of being world champion." The season starts in Australia on March 29. *Reuters