Martin Whitmarsh has admitted that, when McLaren finalised the design of its MP4-28, it was enduring a low point in its 2012 campaign and wanted to break the mould in a bid to improve this year.
Almost a complete redesign from its predecessor, the car has been problematic from its debut in pre-season testing and McLaren only overhauled Force India for fifth place in the constructors' championship at Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix. Neither Jenson Button – a three-time race winner last year – nor Sergio Perez has appeared on a podium this season, and McLaren has no answer to the likes of Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari or Lotus on track.
”We went aggressive with the height of the nose, the configuration of the front suspension, the configuration of the rear suspension, the bodywork and exhaust layout,” Whitmarsh confessed, “In a word, we did too many things which were deviating from a car which was the fastest car nine or ten months ago…”
Explaining the decision to make so many radical changes, Whitmarsh explained that McLaren was seeking to gain an advantage over teams it believed would be more conservative in their 2013 designs, but admits that the plan backfired owing to the Woking squad's own success.
“The time the team was making the decisions was in a situation when we were falling a bit behind,” he revealed, “The start of the 2012 season was good but then, in mid-season, we were falling behind and it is about that time that you make these decisions. Then last year's car became quicker and quicker.
“It was bad timing, it was misjudgement, and it was ambition. It is very clear in hindsight that we've got it wrong. Hindsight is a great thing to learn from, but it doesn't help right now.
“But let's also be fair: this car now is quicker than last year's car. So what we've done is made marginal steps forward but, effectively, we've lost about six months of time. The other teams - as we should have done - have developed their 2012 car and got ahead, and we slowly have to catch them up. We've done a little bit of that, but it's clearly not enough.”
While previous early season disasters have been turned around - notably in 2009, when Lewis Hamilton struggled at the start of his title defence before winning two races in the second half of the year – but Whitmarsh explains that it has been harder to correct the problems with the MP4-28.
“The weakness of McLaren - and this is probably my fault - is that we have not switched [enough] resources to the next year,” he revealed, “We fought and battled on for this season, as we are racers - that is our weakness. In the past, often we've been a bit late - we've come out slow and then put a foot on the gas. Often we've been in a situation where we've made a mistake, then we rectified that mistake and jumped forward. But, this year, the problem that we have with this car is that we are behind in development. You then push hard to accelerate development, you lose correlation from the wind tunnel to the track, you lose your way and it becomes difficult to make the progress that you want.”