x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Whitmarsh upbeat on dismal form

This time last year Martin Whitmarsh was all smiles as he walked around the paddock at Silverstone.

McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh talks to world champion Lewis Hamilton on the pitwall. The pair have suffered a frustrating year as McLaren have struggled for pace after a strong 2008.
McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh talks to world champion Lewis Hamilton on the pitwall. The pair have suffered a frustrating year as McLaren have struggled for pace after a strong 2008.

This time last year Martin Whitmarsh was all smiles as he walked around the paddock at Silverstone. His McLaren team, led by the Lewis Hamilton, were pushing for the constructors' and drivers' championships and they went on to win in dominant fashion. This year, back in Britain, the picture is different. McLaren's haul of 13 points from seven races leaves them well out of both championship races.

Brawn GP have dominated this season and their success came from their focus on development towards the end of last season, something McLaren could not do as they were battling with Ferrari for the two titles. "We lost the championship by one point in 2007 and last year we were willing to do whatever it took to win it. It was that absolute focus on the year and that battle that caused, to some extent, the predicament we are now in," said Whitmarsh.

"In November we came away with the championship and it seemed entirely the right decision, but come testing in Barcelona when we were two-and-a-half seconds off the pace it didn't seem like it. "Winning a championship that we were strong in was probably the right allocation of our resources, but it makes it very painful now." Whitmarsh assumed sole command of the team's Formula One operations when Ron Dennis stepped aside earlier this year amid the fall-out of Lewis Hamilton mis-leading stewards at the Australian Grand Prix.

Whitmarsh was not involved in that incident, but has had to deal with the pressure as the British team try to make headlines for events on the track. "People ask me about what I feel about the pressure from the outside, but I don't reflect on that," he said. "The pain I feel is internally generated. I want to win, the team want to win and that pervades itself on the whole organisation. "I have been involved for 20 years with this team, been part of six championship victories, and McLaren have that expectation of themselves.

"To not have that is to concede defeat and I think we want to get back to winning ways. Our drivers want to, our team want to and we have to be working damn hard to do that. "There's pressure, of course, but if you don't want it, go somewhere else. I aim to strive to do better and I want to do it with this team. I have no ambition to be with any other Formula One team." For outsiders, the struggles of Hamilton, who will surely be deposed of his drivers title this season, have come as a surprise. It also came as a culture shock for the young Briton.

"We knew we were in tough times, but it was a shock to Lewis at the beginning of the season," said Whitmarsh. "He had always come to an event expecting to win, believing he could if he did a good enough job and then suddenly he had a brand new experience. "Some mistakes were made that added to the pressure and tension, and the media, as is their job, got on our case. I have felt the public scrutiny a fraction of what Lewis has. People stop me at petrol stations to express their sympathy so you realise it must be pretty awful if a stranger is consoling you as you fill your car with petrol.

Under such pressure, it would be easy for Hamilton to become guarded and perhaps critical of the team for letting him down. Admirably he has kept his frustrations intact. "Lewis is quite a gentle individual," says Whitmarsh, 51. "Inevitably when someone has that gentleness and humanity there is a reciprocal response. "There have been other drivers in F1 and my experience who are capable of giving a few expletives and receiving it, but it works differently for other people.

"Lewis is committed, dedicated and doesn't need extra motivation. What he needs is encouragement and support, primarily when he is being attacked from outside of the team, or being speculated that he is being attacked from inside the team. "And the fire is still there with Lewis, definitely. "He has shown on numerous occasions that he is driving his pants off to get the best out of the car. He wants to win.

"He might be lining up 16th on the grid, but he's not aiming to finish 16th. He might not win at Silverstone, but he will still be doing everything he can to finish at the top." He adds of his lead driver's attitude: "None of us like failing to achieve our objectives and that's been tough for him, for all of us, but for Lewis in particular because he's a superstar. "He happens to be an extraordinary racing driver, but he's also good looking and articulate, has the charisma, humility and wit. He is a media superstar.

"But, there is a phenomenon in all us, and no matter how we try to suppress, ignore or deny it, we are all capable of jealousy. "I have seen a change in Lewis's character as he learns more, but fundamentally his personality is the same, still charming, and he will be better for this. " akhan@thenational.ae