McLaren-Mercedes is eager to retain its current partnership of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button on the driving strength and Martin Whitmarsh at the helm on the management side 'long-term', Jonathan Neale has conceded – insisting that the 'heat' the team has recently been receiving in the media is nothing it can't handle.
Off the back of a troubled opening half to the F1 2011 World Championship campaign by McLaren's usual exacting standards – with just two victories from the first nine grands prix – as well as a very public spat with Red Bull Racing at Silverstone last time out and a distinctly disgruntled driver in the shape of Hamilton who is rumoured to be assessing his future options, Whitmarsh's own position inside the team has come under scrutiny of late, especially given the Englishman's demanding commitments as chairman of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA), too.
Managing director Neale, however, is quick to stress that Whitmarsh's dual duties are no cause for concern and that his FOTA role is no distraction – and what's more, he points out that without the pioneering teams' body, agreements on topics such as engine regulations, resource restrictions and carbon-friendly agendas would have been far more difficult to successfully accomplish.
“We want Martin, Lewis and Jenson here for the long-term,” Neale affirmed in a special pre-German Grand Prix Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes Phone-In Session. “We don't see Martin's FOTA role as a distraction; it's an essential part of managing the sport, and he handles it very well, which is why they have asked him to do it again next year.
“Back in the day, there was a lack of cohesion between the teams and the same spats and trips up-and-down to the World Motor Sport Council as we are seeing now, but I think we are [presently] in a period of great development for the sport. Martin has done such a fantastic job for McLaren and for FOTA.
“Up until [the British Grand Prix], we were the only ones really putting up a credible fight against Red Bull. Both of our drivers have won races [in 2011] and are proven race-winners and championship-winners. There are an awful lot of people behind us on the grid. Yes, we've been getting some heat in the press, but it's all part of the media circus and the expectation with Silverstone being our home grand prix. If you don't deliver – and we didn't – then you are going to get some comeback on that. We don't take it too seriously.
“Regarding the niggles between us and Red Bull, we are out there trying to knock bells out of each other on the circuit. There has been a reasonable amount of tension between all the teams recently over the regulations. Unfortunately, we allowed [the debate over off-throttle blown-exhausts] to develop right up until 11:30am on the Saturday [at Silverstone] – although on balance, I suppose it is all good for the show. Now we are moving forwards, business as usual.”
Indeed, Silverstone was a less-than-sparkling weekend for McLaren, with a missing wheel nut leading to an early bath for Button, and fuel conservation woes caused by an overly-aggressive strategy arguably costing Hamilton the chance to do battle for a podium finish.
To make matters worse, Fernando Alonso's victory for Ferrari on a significantly better weekend for the Scuderia
meant the Woking-based outfit's MP4-26 effectively slipped to being only the third-fastest car on the grid, but with the team losing 'over a second' due to the contentious and subsequently aborted off-throttle blown-exhaust ban, Neale is confident that normal service will be resumed at the Nürburgring. There will, he assures, be no letting-up – and plenty of 'risks' in an effort to halt the runaway Red Bull steamroller.