Martin Whitmarsh has revealed the depth of his desire to lead McLaren-Mercedes to their first race victory – and first world championship – under his direction, and whilst admitting that he is 'very similar' to Ron Dennis, he insists is not 'an identikit' of his predecessor.
Whitmarsh officially took over from Dennis at the helm of the multiple title-winning Woking-based outfit on Sunday (1 March), and his first task will be to help Lewis Hamilton to successfully defend his 2008 drivers' crown. No British driver has previously done so in the 59-year history of the world championship.
The 50-year-old has worked at McLaren since 1989, and since 2004 has assumed the position of CEO, understudy and second-in-command to team principal Dennis. Now, however, he has moved firmly into the limelight – with all the added pressure that comes attached to it.
“I've been trying for 20 years to win races and championships,” Whitmarsh told UK newspaper The Independent
, “but I have to say I feel an extra zing this time.
“I am a competitive person, and I want my first win as team principal and my first world championship more than I realised. In twelve months' time I certainly don't want to be the team principal who failed to help Lewis to win the world championship again, so that does add pressure.
“Our car is good and we will be bolting on a fair amount more performance to it, but who knows? Maybe others have done better and found something we haven't.”
Dennis – under whose expert guidance McLaren claimed no fewer than ten drivers' laurels and seven constructors' trophies – is moving on to other roles within the McLaren Group after the best part of three decades in charge of the F1 operation, and Whitmarsh acknowledged that his fellow Brit had left big boots to fill. He does not, however, foresee a dramatic change in the way the team operates following the hand-over.
“Ron and I have common views, but I am not an identikit of him,” he underlined. “On the fundamental issues of how to go motor racing we are very similar in how we approach things. We want to provide the best technology and opportunities for both of our drivers.”
The Englishman also argued that Hamilton's fraught tussle with Ferrari rival Felipe Massa for title glory last year had left him 'battle-hardened like no other driver' – and he argued the sport's youngest-ever world champion would only go from strength-to-strength off the back of it.
“He wanted to be world champion since he was eight and now he is,” Whitmarsh explained. “That can be an anti-climax, and I think after Brazil last year he did have a little bit of a dip because he'd done it, but now he wants to prove he is a multiple world champion and the pressure is back in a very positive way.
“There is no longer the pressure there was on him until he won the title at the last race of last season. If you sit with him now, you do sense someone who has the confidence of being world champion.”