Exclusive: McLaren still backing Lewis

Team Principal says team still supporting title bid

By William Esler at Donington Park.   Last Updated: 01/10/12 3:32pm

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Martin Whitmarsh has told Sky Sports that McLaren will continue to support Lewis Hamilton's title bid - despite the driver leaving the team at the end of the season.

The longest running transfer saga in recent F1 history finally came to an end on Friday when it was announced that the 2008 World Champion would join Mercedes from 2013.

The decision led to speculation that Hamilton would be frozen out at McLaren during the final six races and that the team would focus their efforts on Jenson Button.

But Whitmarsh has dismissed those rumours, insisting the Woking-based team were still determined to win the Drivers' Championship.

"Yes I think very much so," he exclusively told Sky Sports when asked if Hamilton would receive the team's full support.

"We have a competitive car at the minute and we have six races left. We can win all of those six races and in my view we can win the Championship. So starting next week in Japan we will be focussing on that.

"Lewis is a great racing driver and massively competitive. He knows there are races to win and races he wants to win himself. So we will be working hard to do that."

Work on the team's 2013 challenger is well underway, and Hamilton will have knowledge of the design. But the McLaren Team Principal says he trusts the 27-year-old not to share confidential information with the Silver Arrows.

"I know Lewis well, I trust and respect him and he trusts and respects the team, that is not something that goes through my mind at all."

Excited

Hamilton's seat will be filled by Sergio Perez and Whitmarsh is excited by the prospect of his new line-up, insisting either of his drivers could win the World Championship next season.

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"In Jenson we have a real proven project, a great guy and a race winner," he said.

"He is someone who a couple of races ago was utterly dominant and in Sergio we have someone who is very young, he is only 22, very raw, but a fantastic natural talent. I've been watching him for a few years, obviously he came into Formula 1 last year, did a fastest lap in Monaco last year and had some stunning podiums this year for Sauber.

"Most people accept that he is the rising star of Formula 1 - so the challenge for us is to develop him before Australia next year and see if we can make him a World Champion."

Perez is held in high regard not just in the F1 paddock, but also in British F3 where he developed his skills as a driver.

One team told Sky Sports that they were amazed that despite driving for a single car team, and having no-one to share data with, the Mexican was still able to challenge their three car outfit for the title, demonstrating an excellent understanding of how to develop a car.

That skill is one Whitmarsh is looking forward to seeing at McLaren.

"He has never been in the best team or had the best support, I don't know him well yet in truth, but in my assessment he is not only very talented, but he is very smart, intelligent, thoughtful, humble and hardworking. So I think he will be very interesting to work with him and see what we can do."

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