McLaren-Mercedes has engineered a team reshuffle in order to make new boy and defending F1 World Champion Jenson Buttton feel more comfortable more quickly, Jonathan Neale has explained – as he insisted there would be no fear of the British star being played into a subservient 'number two' role to team-mate and compatriot Lewis Hamilton in 2010.
Hamilton's erstwhile race engineer Phil Prew has been promoted to the role of principal race engineer at the Woking-based outfit, with former test engineer Andy Latham – who has worked closely with both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen during his nine years at the squad to-date – stepping up to take his place.
Button, for his part, will be engineered by Danish-born Jakob Andreason, eight years Latham's senior and a man with prior experience in Champ Car, BTCC, International Formula 3000 and DTM circles, before being appointed as an assistant race engineer at McLaren in 2005 and similarly going on to work on Hamilton's car. The shift, reveals managing director Neale, was deemed necessary in order to guarantee equilibrium inside a team that has historically prided itself on treating both of its drivers with absolute parity.
“When Jenson visited the McLaren Technology Centre, one of the questions he asked was, 'Is this Lewis' team?'” he remarked. “The answer was, 'Yes, of course it's Lewis' team…as it was Heikki Kovalainen's team, Fernando Alonso's team, Juan-Pablo Montoya's and Kimi Raikkonen's – and it will be your team as well. Is this Lewis' team to the exclusion of any other high-performance driver? Absolutely not. At McLaren-Mercedes we love winning drivers – and we want to go about telling the world that story.
“We felt it was the right time; I think the opportunity of a new driver, plus the re-thinking required by the resource restriction agreement, comes at a very good time for us. It enabled us to ask ourselves 'How are we going to best do this?'
“Both our 2009 race engineers, Phil Prew (Hamilton) and Mark Slade (Kovalainen), have been the team's race engineers for more than 15 years. We've now got a number of very good people who are trained and ready to go – and we want to give them the platform from which they can make their experience and expertise really count.
“We also want to build an engineering team around Jenson, in exactly the same way we did with Lewis back in 2007. We want to create a strong group of individuals who can bring out the best in Jenson's naturally smooth style.
“Additionally, we're very keen to keep on developing our organisation. We've seen huge developments in aerodynamics, engineering and manufacturing throughout the team, and we are taking the reduction in trackside staff as an opportunity to strengthen race engineering. With the resource restriction agreement affecting the number of personnel we'll bring to the races this year, we also saw this as an ideal opportunity to look at how the process works and to make some changes accordingly.
“We'd been looking at it since the end of the season but, naturally, we weren't making any decisions in race engineering until we'd finalised our driver line-up. Now that we have Jenson confirmed to drive alongside Lewis, we want to make absolutely sure we can do an equal job for both drivers. We're giving both drivers a fresh engineering team, with Phil Prew as the bridge between them as the team's principal race engineer. He'll travel to every race and will manage the set-up, development and sharing of data and information between both race engineering teams.
“[His role is] primarily to ensure there's total transfer in the learning of set-up development. It gives us a figurehead and a go-to person for the rest of the organisation across the race weekend, so they can ask Phil, 'What's happening with set-up? Which way are we going?' We can also better use the simulation team and the engineers back at the McLaren Technology Centre to say to Phil, 'You might want to try this', and Phil can supervise that flow of information.”