Martin Whitmarsh is confident McLaren-Mercedes will not in any way suffer from the events of the 2007 Formula 1 season, when the British squad invested heavily in its all-out title tussle with Ferrari, and was fined a sporting record $100 million USD for being found in possession of its rival's confidential information.

Indeed, with the launch in Stuttgart this week of its MP4-23 challenger and the car's first on-track appearance at Jerez, McLaren has made a point of underlining the fact that it has very much turned over a new leaf from the murky waters into which it was plunged last summer.

"Everyone in Woking, at our technology centre and at Mercedes has had to work incredibly hard to produce this car," McLaren CEO Whitmarsh explained. "We already know it's quicker than the car we raced in Brazil, but it's also slower than the car we will take to Australia, so [the work] doesn't stop there and there's been a tremendous effort to build the second car.

"Between now and the start of the season we will continue to develop the package - many of the components and aerodynamic furniture on this car will evolve and change, and there's a lot more lap time to be added to it.

"We are committed to winning this year, and everyone feels very excited about our new young driver line-up. I think it's testament to the enthusiasm and passion that someone like Heikki Kovalainen can join this team, and he does so with the assurance that he's going to be given every possibility and every chance to win races and win a world championship.

"We want to win races and we want to win the championship, but we've got no favourites. There are pros and cons to the approach, but it's a policy and a strategy that we've had for a number of years.

"We know none of our competitors have stood still - they're working very hard as well - so we have to keep pushing to make sure we are in a good position to win races."

One key factor that played into the birth of the MP4-23 was McLaren's agreement in accordance with the sport's governing body to suspend three areas of development on the machine that could feasibly have been influenced by the Ferrari data. Though he acknowledged this would not go unnoticed, Whitmarsh was insistent it should ultimately have little effect on the car's performance level.

"I would like to say it's had no impact," he admitted, "but the reality is a whole variety of things stray into the time of the engineering management team. We volunteered those three areas, because we didn't want there to be any ambiguity or questions over the course of this year that any of our programme had been influenced by the events of last year. We of course are happy that there is no influence with regard to last year's car or this year's car, but we accept that it would be useful for us and the sport to live without any of those questions and challenges. We came up with those three areas, and we do not believe that we are handicapped by that.

"Also, both ourselves and Ferrari were fighting to win the championship last year; in the last third of the season we were putting a lot more work into the development of the product until the very last race to compete for that championship. That took a lot of time and energy, so I'm sure we both were slightly distracted from developing this year's car, although I think we've had enough focus to be able to produce a competitive car. Clearly there are a lot of areas on the car that can be addressed, and we are confident we can develop it so it gives our drivers the opportunity to win races."

A slightly longer wheelbase and more weight distribution towards the front of the car are prominent amongst the changes to the MP4-23 over its MP4-22 predecessor, a necessity given the fact the rear tyres will now be working a good deal harder with the disappearance of traction control. There is also the new standard ECU transmission to be taken into account, and Whitmarsh was quick to praise the 'discipline' and 'fantastic job' done by everyone at Mercedes to rise to the challenge involved in that process.

"We shouldn't overlook the fact that we had 100 per cent reliability in the races last year," the 49-year-old asserted, "which was a huge effort by Mercedes-Benz. Some of their engineers have been involved in the development of the transmission, and I think that's a feature of this partnership - we are able to switch engineers between the chassis and engine programmes. It's completely open and co-operative, and everyone is willing to learn from one another, so I hope we've learnt enough from our engine partners that our transmission is reliable.

"Inevitably when you're developing a new car, there is an evolutionary process. I think particularly if it's a relatively competitive car it's wrong to throw everything away. We try to focus on the strengths of that car and retain them whilst attacking the areas of weakness. We certainly had a number of circuits where the MP4-22 was extremely competitive, and we hope we can return to them this year and be equally competitive. We also sit down in an analytical way and are very critical of where we felt - perhaps on long runs or in some high-speed corners - there were deficiencies in the car, and we've been very concentrated on those aerodynamic areas to improve the performance.

"Formula 1 is so competitive now that year-on-year you change about 85 per cent of the 12,000 parts on the car. It's about tiny fractions of percentages of performance; there are now precious few 'Eureka' moments where you find three seconds in the wind tunnel. It's a continuous development, and every single component on the car has to be improved and every system developed.

"It's a really tough struggle for all engineering teams, but it's an enjoyable phase of the year. We go through the season fighting every other weekend, then we go into the winter and to an extent all of our competitors' performances are taken away from us as a comparison. You have to concentrate on improving the car in the absence of that information and hope you do enough.

"I think we've done a reasonable job to improve upon an already competitive package, and it's an exciting time to see how it stacks up on-track. There will be all sorts of sand-bagging between the various teams, and no one will really know about fuel loads and ballast and the tyre situation so there will be lots of speculation. None of the winter testing times do anything for you; it's what happens on Sunday afternoon in Melbourne that counts. We're hoping to go there with a competitive package; we would like to win the first race, and we'd like to win a few more after that too..."

 

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