Martin Whitmarsh: Weekend in words
McLaren boss was refreshingly honest throughout the Australian GP
By William Esler. Last Updated: March 18, 2013 2:17pm
In a sport in which towing the corporate line is the norm and soundbites often sound like pre-rehearsed statements, it was refreshing to hear Martin Whitmarsh be so brutally honest about McLaren's shortcomings in Australia.
Rather than making excuses, the Team Principal admitted his team were struggling to understand their new car, which lacked fundamental pace at Albert Park.
McLaren may have been fastest on two of the 12 test days during pre-season, but once the cars took to the track in Melbourne it quickly became clear those times had masked underlining performance issues with the MP4-28.
"I think we should be worried about the pace," Whitmarsh told Sky Sports F1 from the pitwall on Friday.
"It is a tough day in the office for everyone at the moment, we are lacking grip and there is a lot of head scratching at the moment, but certainly we are lacking pace.
"I think we are still learning and there is a lot we still need to learn about this car. But we have struggled frankly to quite understand how it is performing - understanding the tyres and the car.
"We took the decision to make a lot of changes and knew that to some extent that would put us back a little bit, but we were hoping to get on top of that before the first race. As of today we are still undoubtedly struggling and that is something we need to gather good information on and work through it this weekend."
Later in the Team Principals' Press Conference, Whitmarsh added: "I would say we are lacking in overall grip and consistency, we had understeer, poor ride and it was a very difficult day. It was a day when we didn't move forward during the course of the day and that is a bit of a concern but we have a lot of data to work through long and hard tonight."
But McLaren's woes continued into qualifying and by the time Q2 finally got underway on Sunday morning, the team had started to take gambles with their tyre strategy that perhaps they would not have entertained in previous seasons.
"I think inevitably if you're not as competitive as you want to be you take bigger risks, so I think that probably had some influence on it," he told Ted Kravitz.
"I think first we took a risk with Sergio [Perez] going on to a dry tyre. It was a very difficult call, I think clearly sector one, sector two, it was quicker on the dry tyre, sector three was still struggling on a dry tyre, but we took that risk."
Jenson Button was the only McLaren driver to finish in the points, picking two points for ninth place, with Sergio Perez classified in 11th spot. By Sunday evening a drained-looking Whitmarsh said things were even worse than they had feared.
"Winter testing was very strange this year, so we didn't have a full understanding of the car and didn't come here with masses of confidence, but frankly I think it was worse than we expected.
"We knew to an extent this circuit would play to our weaknesses and I think it certainly managed to do that. But we don't have enough of an understanding to fix that and I think we are gaining that. You need to understand what you have to do and understand what the problems are then you have to work hard to fix that. Sadly there is no magic, we just have to work hard and get it right.
"I hope we won't be quite so far off the frontrunners in Malaysia, but sadly I am not promising we will be with them either. We just need to see what we can do in the few days before then."
Indeed, so bad was the performance in Australia, Whitmarsh did not even rule out returning to the MP4-27 this season, perhaps hinting that they had 'bitten off more than they could chew' with their new design philosophy.
"We will see, we are not too proud to say when we get things wrong, and we do occasionally, he said.
"But for the time being we have to try and get some understanding and do the best job we can do go forward with this car as quickly as we can. We know it has some areas where we can find more downforce than with last year's car
"It probably won't be as quick as I'd like or many people would like but we think we can work this one out, but if we can't we will look at anything."
The candidness of Whitmarsh's comments, whilst a welcome change, perhaps show that there are major problems at the Woking team, that no amount of positive 'PR speak' will be able to hide when Button and Perez head out for first practice in Malaysia.