Whitmarsh defends Hamilton
McLaren team principal says driver didn't underperform in 2011
By William Esler - Twitter @SkySportsWill. Last Updated: 31/01/12 1:46pm
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has once again leapt to the defence of "brilliant" Lewis Hamilton after criticism of his performances in 2011.
Hamilton, world champion in 2008, finished a distant fifth in the drivers' standings last season as Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull secured back-to-back titles.
2011 was also the first year that the 27-year-old has finished behind a team-mate as Jenson Button consistently outperformed him to finish runner-up in the championship.
Hamilton made more headlines off the track than on it last year, as his personal life hit the front pages. His relationship with McLaren was also put under strain after his infamous meeting with Red Bull at the Canadian Grand Prix.
However, when asked if a "serious chat" with Hamilton was needed if McLaren are to win their first Constructors' Championship since 1998, Whitmarsh was emphatic in his response.
"Lewis won three grands prix in 2011, one of only three drivers to have won more than a single race," he told the official Formula One website.
"The other two were Sebastian and Jenson. Again, just as most teams have never and will never win six grands prix in a single season, as McLaren did last year, it's equally true to say most drivers have never and will never win three grands prix in a single season, as Lewis did last year.
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"Indeed, some of the most compelling highlights of last season's on-track action, from the point of view of a racer's sheer talent shining through, were provided by Lewis. In China, Germany and Abu Dhabi, and in many other places besides, he was awesomely impressive.
"Nonetheless, you described 2011 as 'a tough season' for Lewis and undoubtedly there's some truth in that. But, such is the level of his ambition that he's his own sternest critic.
"Sometimes, therefore, when things don't go quite right for him, he lets it get to him. We saw that last year sometimes. But it's a measure of his competitiveness, a side-effect of his monumental will to win.
"As such, we wouldn't want Lewis any other way. He's a truly brilliant racing driver - one of the fastest we've ever seen. And that's why, throughout last year, we were always keen to reassure him we were backing him 100 per cent."
Whitmarsh also stressed that Hamilton, whose contract expires this year, was happy with the team who backed him during his junior career, adding that he has achieved a lot in his five years in F1.
He said: "People have short memories, don't they?
"Lewis has been an integral part of McLaren for more than half his life. He's part of the McLaren story and part of the McLaren family, too. He knows that.
"Equally, he's been phenomenally successful in the five seasons he's spent with us as a Formula One driver.
"He's been in contention for the drivers' world championship until the last grand prix of the season in three of those five seasons, and of course he won the drivers' world championship for us in 2008.
"Overall, his record of 17 grand prix wins from 90 grand prix starts places him in the very top rank in Formula One's metaphorical hall of fame."
"Some of the most compelling highlights of last season's on-track action, from the point of view of a racer's sheer talent shining through, were provided by Lewis."
Martin Whitmarsh Quotes of the week
Ahead of Wednesday's launch of McLaren's 2012 challenger, the MP4-27, Whitmarsh remained tight-lipped on the car's design.
"Its development is going in the right direction," he said.
"Everyone at McLaren is already working as hard as is humanly possible to change second to first, and has been all winter.
"Although that level of commitment necessarily involves personal sacrifice, I don't think our people see it like that. Formula One people are an astonishingly motivated bunch, and McLaren people are even more driven than most.
"McLaren has won 20 world championships in the 46 years it's been competing in Formula One, and that's a stupendous record by anyone's reckoning. Believe me, we fully intend to add to that tally."