Martin Whitmarsh has ruefully reflected that for McLaren-Mercedes, trying to win the F1 2011 World Championship is 'probably the wrong focus' right now – although he insists that off the back of a series of inconsistent, uncompetitive and error-strewn performances, he is not worried about the prospect of losing his job.
With the FIA's contentious and much-debated off-throttle blown-exhaust changes at Silverstone last weekend seeming to hurt McLaren more than most, Jenson Button could qualify only fifth for the British Grand Prix – and team-mate Lewis Hamilton a distinctly uncharacteristic tenth, respectively one-and-a-half and two seconds adrift of pole position.
Following a promising start, matters would then get even worse on race day, as Hamilton found himself denied the opportunity to fight for a podium finish – or perhaps even better – when he had to back off in the closing stages to conserve fuel, ultimately narrowly pipping Ferrari rival Felipe Massa to fourth place at the chequered flag following a brief wheel-banging duel through the final corner. It was even more disheartening for Button, whose challenge was abruptly ended by a missing wheel nut.
Whitmarsh concedes that at the midway stage of the F1 2011 campaign, targeting the title this year is now in all probability a forlorn hope, with fundamental issues first needing to be resolved.
“This team cannot be happy,” acknowledged the Surrey-based outfit's team principal. “We're not happy, we're not content, we're disappointed. That's a fact, and it's quite obvious. Our car is not quick enough – that's how it is. Do we concentrate on trying to win the championship? Well, frankly at the moment that's probably the wrong focus. [We need to] get back to being competitive as quickly as possible, win races and see where it goes from there.”
The Englishman took over at the helm of McLaren two-and-a-half years ago, after long-time team principal Ron Dennis stepped down – but under his guidance and leadership, there has been no world championship silverware, just two victories from nine races in 2011 and in Hamilton, an increasingly frustrated driver who is rumoured to be assessing his future options.
Whilst recognising that the team's general performance has fallen some way short of expectations – and is a far cry from the glory days of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Mika Hakkinen, to name but a few – Whitmarsh is quick to dismiss notions of a crisis in the corridors of Woking, even if he admits that he is
feeling the pressure.
“It was not one of the best grands prix I have ever had,” he mused of Silverstone. “We didn't want to let the fans down, and we did. For a racing driver, it is hard to save fuel – it's counter-intuitive to be told to slow down. The car also becomes harder to drive as the tyres and the brakes cool down.
“I am confident that I will stay in my job, though. I answer to the board, not just to Ron [Dennis], and they seem happy with the job I'm doing – for now, anyway. I have been here for 23 years and worked with Ron for 23 years. Some people thought I was a clone of Ron, but I am not. We do have an interesting relationship – we have ups-and-downs – but it is strong at the moment.