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Sam Michael, McLaren – Q&A

16 January 2013

Crash.net:
Sam, you're here with a team from McLaren to take part in the [karting] event. Is this a case of letting your hair down before the real business gets underway?

Sam Michael:
The work doesn't stop in F1 these days. We have been at it all year but, from the Monday after Brazil, all of our focus was on 2013 from an operational point of view. Tonight we brought down a team for a bit of fun on a Friday evening and it is for a good cause as well, supporting charities and also supporting Dan's family.

It is also a team-building thing but, aside from us as a group, it enables you to stay in touch with your grass roots and meet some of the karters who are starting out in our industry. These are things I like to give back to the sport.

Crash.net:
We all know the story of the young karter who impressed McLaren while he was younger, so it shows that you never know who you might spot...

Sam Michael:
That's right and you do see talent in the field sometimes, there can be guys who stand out. It is always worth keeping an eye out but its also nice as people can just walk up to you and have a chat at the side of the track which they obviously can't do in F1 as most of these guys can't get access to the pit-lane at a grand prix and, even if they could, we are busy working to make the car go quicker.

Crash.net:
As you said, work has been ongoing on 2013 for some time. It's a big season for McLaren with a new driver line-up and a determination to improve on third place in the standings last year. How is the team feeling ahead of the new season?

Sam Michael:
We're really excited and I think everyone is really motivated for the 2013 season. We have Checo [Perez] in the car now, we have a world champion in Jenson Button and we are really looking forward to going racing again. It hasn't been a big break, but most racers aren't that interested in a break and want to keep racing. We've had enough [of a break] to really have a good look at all the things that we think we can make improvements on from last year and have addressed any issues there, and we are going out there to fight for race wins in 2013; that is what this year is all about.

Checo is just starting with the team and all the signs are that he has his head turned on. He is a great character and has fitted in quickly and he is someone who we hope will grow inside the team into a race-winning driver.

Crash.net:
He is replacing Lewis who has been involved with McLaren for so many years. How hard is it for the team to adapt to that change when they have been so used to working with another driver?

Sam Michael:
McLaren is so well structured from that point of view as we have so many people and systems in place to cope with that. We are working with a driver development programme and are working with drivers like Kevin Magnussen and Nyck de Vries, as well as Oliver [Turvey] and Gary [Paffett], so we are quite used to taking drivers and knowing how to train them on the simulator and how to integrate them with the engineers. We know how to judge their level of understanding to help them improve and work with them on things like fitness and wellbeing – it's an integral part of McLaren.

Crash.net:
The car was quick last year but there were too many DNFs which is why the standings at the end of the season didn't have the desired appearance for the team. Is getting rid of the errors and mistakes that we saw last season the main thing ahead of 2013?

Sam Michael:
It's not just that, its also a case of making the car faster as the gap is so close. Even though we won the last couple of races, the car that we used in Brazil wouldn't win if we took it to Melbourne – we are going to need a car that is much faster than that.

You have to fix everything and there are three main things in motor racing. Not in any order, there is performance, there is mechanical reliability and there is operational reliability. The first two are pretty obvious but the last one is all about asking yourself 'Did you execute everything properly? Were the pit-stops right? Did we optimise the car on the track? How many mistakes did the driver make?' It is all about removing any team errors from the equation. All three of those areas are areas we have worked on over the past six to eight months, as we knew by mid-season last year that we had made too many mistakes.

Those are areas we have worked on to deliver this year and the technical team within McLaren is very strong in depth and we know how to make a car quick. We know how to make is reliable and we know how to deliver – that is what we are focused on in 2013.

Crash.net:
People will say it is going to be McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull going for the title. Do you expect it to be much the same as last year, maybe without some of the unpredictable racing we saw last season?

Sam Michael:
I think it will be similar, and remember we have different tyres for 2013 with different compounds and different casings that will mix things up a bit and there will be an element of learning in the early part of the season. I think it will be closer but I still think the normal protagonists will be at the front battling. There is a reason why they are there, it's because you do the things that need to be done to make a fast car and a winning car.

I do think that it will be the same teams winning although there will be others. I'm sure that Lotus will win some races and I think that Mercedes will win some races, but over the course of the season, I think it will be us versus Red Bull with Ferrari in there as well.


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