Lewis Hamilton is 'fired-up' to put his recent run of collisions and controversy firmly behind him with a strong performance in this weekend's European Grand Prix, insists Martin Whitmarsh – contending that the McLaren-Mercedes star is not only 'one of the most exciting [drivers] in the world to watch', but also one who is 'feared' by his rivals.
McLaren is the only one of the top four teams not to have prevailed around the streets of Valencia in any of the European Grand Prix's three previous editions there – Felipe Massa triumphed for Ferrari in 2008, Rubens Barrichello for Brawn GP (now Mercedes Grand Prix) in 2009 and Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull Racing last year – and that is a statistic that the Woking-based outfit's team principal Whitmarsh palpably hopes to quash this time around.
“I think anyone who claims to be confident going into a grand prix is generally pretty foolhardy,” he told a special Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes Phone-In Session. “The pace of development between the top teams is very high. We have made some reasonable progress, I think, in the last three grands prix, and in the races themselves I think we've had the quickest car – but we haven't had the quickest qualifying car.
“There are some changes this weekend, with the FIA set to enforce strict parc fermé
regulations that mean the car that qualifies will be the car that races – and we should be hopeful based upon that. I think we've got to assume that everyone has been working hard, but we have a few developments that we are bringing to this race, two very motivated drivers and we will do our best to win.”
As to Hamilton himself, after former grand prix-winner Eddie Irvine suggested this week that the 2008 F1 World Champion has 'lost the plot' in the wake of his recent run-ins with Felipe Massa, Pastor Maldonado, Mark Webber and – most embarrassingly of all in Montreal last time out – his own team-mate Jenson Button, Whitmarsh has again defended his driver, arguing that there is no need for the 26-year-old to change a thing and hopeful that both he and Button will remain at McLaren for the foreseeable future.
“It's always important to listen to Eddie Irvine talking about drivers that have lost the plot!” the Englishman quipped. “Lewis is a passionate, aggressive, overtaking driver – one of the most exciting in the world to watch. I don't think he's going to change his approach. Things haven't quite gone the way we would have liked them to go in the last couple of races, but Lewis has not lost any of his form – he has been quick and aggressive and feared by the other drivers.
“He is certainly fired-up and looks in good shape, and he is very enthusiastic to have a great result this weekend. He doesn't like not winning and he didn't particularly enjoy the last two race weekends, but I'm sure he will be looking forward to this one. He can win this weekend, and I'm sure that's what he is determined to do – he will be fully-focussed on that.
“To have your two drivers make contact and one of them consequently not finish the race [as happened in Canada] is obviously not what we want to happen, but if you look back at it, the relationship between them after such an incident was remarkably strong. Lewis waited around to congratulate Jenson on a great win, and he showed great spirit. It was a painful weekend for him, but his affection for the team and confidence in Jenson was demonstrated by that.
“It's very easy in those incidents for there to be both immediate and long-lasting recriminations, and it speaks volumes that within minutes, whilst they both regretted it, neither was blaming the other. We are very fortunate to have two great drivers within the team, and they are great with one another. They enjoy being in this team, they both want to win and they enjoy racing against each other. We will talk about the future with them when the time comes, but at the moment, we are not planning on a different driver line-up.
“Ultimately, Lewis will decide where he is going, but I think he enjoys being in this team. As a top driver, Lewis will be linked to any team that the media think can afford him or can satisfy his expectations. I don't pay too much attention to what's written in the media; in my experience, it has not been a good guide to what is really happening in driver negotiations...”