Martin Whitmarsh responds to McLaren criticisms and says season still salvageable
Team unable to run new parts in Barcelona
By James Galloway in Barcelona @SkyGalloway. Last Updated: 14/05/13 3:56pm
Martin Whitmarsh has defended McLaren's decision not to run their new front wing on Saturday and continued to stress that the team will work around the clock to improve their MP4-28, despite the expected improvement failing to materialise at Barcelona.
The former multiple Championship-winning team had targeted the start of the European season as the time when they would begin the process of moving back up the grid after weeks spent working on a sizeable upgrade package for the troublesome 2013 car.
However, after a difficult start with their first batch of upgrades in Friday practice, and no apparent breakthrough, McLaren instigated an 11th-hour attempt to deliver two new front wings from their factory in Woking overnight, one sent by air and the other by road.
Although the parts arrived at the circuit on Saturday morning, McLaren didn't have sufficient time to check whether the new wing conformed to the sport's increasingly stringent flex tests on the FIA's paddock measuring equipment. As such, they were left in the garage as Sergio Perez and Jenson Button once again struggled out on track.
"I think you'll find whether you're Caterham or Ferrari or McLaren, you'll see people queuing down at what's known as the 'bridge of doom' and it's ultimately those tests that go on there that determine whether the car is legal or not," Whitmarsh told reporters on Saturday evening.
"So we, and other teams, test parts, components before they're here. The tolerance on stiffness, on dimensions is very, very tight and so everyone - I can assure you everyone does their own tests - tests these critical issues on the FIA equipment.
"If you can't do that, and given the very small tolerances, then you've got inherent risk."
Although attempts to fit the new wings for final practice therefore proved futile, Whitmarsh insisted that it would have been an ill-advised move to risk the consequences of racing them because McLaren's own in-house checks had shown the wings to be on the border of the permitted tolerance levels.
"The hope was that we would have the ability to get one onto the rig but in fairness to the FIA, they've got no obligation to make it available to us earlier on a Saturday morning - so there's no criticism on them - and that was the chance that we took," the McLaren chief added.
"We looked at the data that we'd already produced. You look at the data, you put some tolerancing on that and say, 'Okay, can I confidently do this or would I normally need to go down and check those components?'
"The tolerancing was sufficiently close that we took a view that this is something you would have to check, which is ordinarily what you do, what every single team does, and without that check it wasn't prudent to go forward with those wings."
Without the addition of the new wings, what transpired was McLaren's worst combined qualifying result since Australia - although Sergio Perez did manage to make Q3 while Jenson Button slumped to 14th.
With their struggles therefore showing no sign of ending in the short term, and Perez conceding on Friday that their hopes of contending for the title were already over, Whitmarsh admitted that in hindsight McLaren had probably missed some of the very early warning signs over the MP4-28's performance, although he said that the latest correlation data had at least proved more accurate.
"The simulation before the start of the season was overoptimistic and we had poor correlation," he explained.
"But I think when you look back at it and you're really honest with yourself, there was some will to believe data and interpret data in a more positive way than it really was.
"I think the simulation coming here was modest in expectation. We hoped we would find more performance from the simulation and we've got to take some positives out of the weekend. I think you can always take positives out of every weekend - there was a better correlation - but clearly we haven't made a step forward that we need and want to make."
And while he made no attempt to hide from the disappointing nature of the Barcelona update, he insisted they were continuing to learn about the MP4-28 and could make more tangible progress in time.
"It's not satisfactory enough, that's the starting point clearly," he admitted. "But I think there's some interesting learning this weekend and that's what you want to do - you want to learn from every step that you try to take.
"Some of them exceed expectation and some of them fall short of expectation but I think we're starting to learn and I believe we can make decent steps forward during the rest of this year and that's what we're trying to do."
With his drivers starting eighth and 14th, the McLaren chief just expressed the hope that both would finish in higher positions come the event of the race.
"There is a race tomorrow, we've got two great racing drivers and they race hard - they race themselves quite hard sometimes!" he joked.
"I think those drivers would want to finish further up the field and they've qualified and fortunately for us they're good drivers and they tend to do that.
"It's going to be a long old race, we'll be doing our best and these guys [the drivers] and let's see if we can make it exciting and get up there and race as hard as we can."