McLaren-Mercedes will not make the same mistake again in the design of its 2010 F1 car, insists team principal Martin Whitmarsh – who has revealed his 'enormous pride' at the incredible turnaround in fortunes that the Woking-based outfit has achieved this year.
Having begun the campaign a gaping 2.5 seconds shy of the leading pace and with scarce hope of even scoring points, let alone anything else, it looked as though the multiple world champions were set for a season in the doldrums, with little cause for cheer.
That much indeed proved to be true over the opening nine grands prix, as defending title-winner Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Heikki Kovalainen notched up respectively just nine and five points – and the former had a very public and deeply embarrassing run-in with race stewards following the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. All prospects of salvaging anything from the year at all appeared to be futile.
However, in the seven races since the upgraded MP4-24 was introduced for the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring back in July – where the two Silver Arrows lined up alongside each other on the third row of the starting grid – the car's early-season aversion to low-downforce tracks has largely evaporated, allowing Hamilton to triumph in Hungary and Singapore, mount the podium in Valencia, Suzuka and Interlagos and set pole position in Valencia, Monza and Singapore. Some comeback, Whitmarsh acknowledges.
“I'm incredibly proud,” the Englishman enthused, speaking to Crash.net
during a special Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes Phone-In Session ahead of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “I've been involved with the team and people here for 20 years. The team had two very arduous years in 2007 and 2008 and such a traumatic start to 2009 – an amazingly difficult start to the season both for the team and for Lewis – but we really knuckled down and developed the car to the point now where it has been there or thereabouts in terms of challenging to win at every circuit since Germany.
“A lot of teams have put in a lot of effort during the year to continue to improve, but if you look at the second half from Germany onwards, Lewis has scored more points than any other driver and we as a team are only three short of Red Bull [during that period]. Hopefully this weekend coming, we can finally establish ourselves as having won the second half of the season! I very much hope and believe we have a very good chance of winning in Abu Dhabi – and that fills me with a sense of enormous pride at what everybody has done.”
What's more, the progress made in 2009 has left Whitmarsh feeling optimistic indeed about the likelihood of a return to front-running and championship-challenging form in 2010. Alluding to the double-decker diffuser row that clouded the early races of the present season and undoubtedly did not help McLaren's efforts to regain ground, next year, the 51-year-old asserts, the team will come out of the blocks fighting fit.
“Despite the turnaround, we were not realistically competing for this year's championship,” he acknowledged. “Therefore, we have put a tremendous amount of effort into next year's car. I know it is already a quicker car inherently and has good momentum, and good progress is continuing to be made day-by-day.
“I think we have accepted the interpretation of the regulations now, because at the beginning of this year we didn't have the same interpretation as some other teams. We didn't make a noise about that, because frankly we had our own work to do, but I think we've taken full advantage with next year's car.
“Everyone has been working hard and I've every confidence that we will come out of the box with a competitive car at the beginning of next year, but we have a lot of tough competitors and I'm sure that Ferrari and other teams are pushing equally hard. No-one here is complacent that it will be easy to go out there and win races, but I really believe we will be up there.”