Whitmarsh stays cautious
Team chief says topsy-turvy nature of season means McLaren can't take recent level of dominance for granted
Last Updated: September 19, 2012 4:32pm
McLaren are remaining cautious over their chances of winning for the fourth consecutive race in Singapore next week.
The Woking outfit head into Marina Bay's night-time event as the form team in Formula 1 having claimed a hat-trick on wins in Hungary, Belgium and Italy - the latter two of which were particularly comfortable for Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton respectively.
But despite the results having given the team a much-needed momentum boost in the race for both World Championships heading into the deciding flyaway rounds, team boss Martin Whitmarsh is not viewing a fourth straight win - a feat McLaren haven't achieved since 2005 - as a mere formality given the nature of this particular season so far.
"To have three in a row in yesteryear, any Formula 1 event after wins in such different circuits, frankly I think we'd be fairly confident now and we'd be here now saying 'that's three in a row, the rest if going to be a breeze now, we are slowly going to erode the lead of those ahead of us and we'll be easy champions at the end of the year'." he said in an interview Friday night's The F1 Show.
"I would read a little bit into that that he's going to play it down. We see how strong they are at the moment, but he's not going to go into 'we're going to be unbeatable' and everything else. Yes, they're confident they know they've got a good car, but they're not going to tell everybody else."
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"Sadly the season's a bit more complex than that. We ought to be every bit as confident as anyone going to Singapore but you've still got that doubt on Friday, even through to probably arriving in Q1, still wondering 'I wonder if we are actually competitive this weekend'. 'Can we actually switch these tyres on, can we actually perform?'"
Although he has claimed two of McLaren's recent three victories, McLaren's most realistic hope for the Drivers' title - Hamilton - remains 37 points adrift of Fernando Alonso in the standings after the Spaniard recovered from a mechanical failure in Monza qualifying to finish in third place in last Sunday's race.
Whitmarsh, who was part of the management team which paired Hamilton and Alonso together to problematic consequences in 2007, admits the now Ferrari driver is now at the very peak of his powers and will be a difficult competitor to overhaul in the title chase. However, crucially, he remains confident that McLaren have the car to do it.
"He can be caught, clearly," the Englishman said.
"But he's doing a fantastic job. People will probably acknowledge that he hasn't had the quickest car on very many occasions yet he's established a great points lead. He's a driver who just when you think he's had a penalty, or he's uncompetitive, towards the end of the race you think 'damn it, he's there again and he's scoring points' and that's the quality of the guy.
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"I think he's driving better than he ever has in his career, he's very focused, so not easy to beat, but winning world championships shouldn't be easy. I think we can overhaul him, I think we've got a quicker car, we're going to work damn hard at it and I think we can overcome him. But he's a formidable competitor and great challenge."
Speaking in wake of Whitmarsh's interview on The F1 Show, Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz suggested that McLaren didn't want to appear complement for the remainder of the season in wake of how quickly their early-season advantage eroded back in April and May.
"After Melbourne when Lewis was on pole, Jenson went and won the race, it looked like they were going to dominate the championship," Ted said.
"He [Whitmarsh]'s been bitten by that because it all went slightly pear-shaped after that. Whitmarsh also knows that Alonso is a specialist around Singapore. [Kimi] Raikkonen will be good there as well."
Anthony Davidson agreed that while McLaren have looked very strong recently the fact the Marina Bay circuit represents such a different set-up challenge for the teams a change to the recent pecking order can't be ruled out.
"We've seen that their car works well on the lower-downforce packages of Spa and then of course Monza but going to the highest downforce package of the season on a track which is completely different," Anthony explained.
"You need the drivers to get on top of things quickly, find a good set-up. It's been a bit more difficult I think on Jenson's side of the garage this season to find that sweet-spot in the balance but Lewis is that kind of driver who will drag any car round that track.
"If they can arrive there with a very good package in terms of high, high downforce then no doubt they're going to be right at the front. But I can't stress enough what a different scenario this could be from last weekend."