On the occasion of the launch of McLaren's new 2014 challenger, the team's Managing Director responded to a few questions and explained he expects many new developments throughout the year to make the main difference on who wins and who doesn't.
Formula 1 in 2014 is all about managing change – how is McLaren going about that? “We’ve never had such significant new regulations before; reacting to them, and managing those changes, while still pushing the performance limits, has been an extremely tough job.
“We’ve been relatively pragmatic about it. We know that the need for consistency initially outweighs the need for performance – the winter tests won’t be about chasing set-up or refining the car; the envelope of performance is likely to be so wide, and so relatively unknown, that the winter – and to some extent the opening races – will be about understanding the operational boundaries of the car as best we can.
“To achieve this, we need a consistent platform – one that responds positively to changes. Moreover, the work of the engineers and designers to understand and interpret trackside data will be more important than before. That’s because this year, more than ever, will come down to a development race: I don’t necessarily think you can expect the car that wins the opening race to be the car that leads the championship charge, something we’ve often seen in the past.
“No, it will be all about a team’s ability to react and respond. We already have an update package that we’re readying for race one, and we’re discovering new things in the ’tunnel, or in CFD, all the time. Once we start track testing, I think you’ll see an intense throughput of ideas and concepts – that’s the nitty-gritty that will win or lose the world championship.”
There’s a greater backdrop of change at McLaren, too, isn’t there? “A team with a fantastic heritage like McLaren is always faced with the challenge of continually winning races and championships. Equally, there’s a responsibility to move the organisation – and our processes – forwards. In fact, we’ll be doing just that during 2014: pushing ahead with an incredible amount of effort, analysis and commitment on the racetrack, but also making changes away from the track that will reap a greater dividend in the long term.
“There’s a huge amount of talent and potential already extant within the organisation, but there’s always more to discover. And we’ve made some very important key additions who’ll have a significant input into our future momentum – we’re incredibly pleased and excited to have hired the likes of Peter Prodromou and Dan Fallows, both from Red Bull Racing, and Ettore Griffini and Ciaron Pilbeam from Lotus, as well as more than a dozen top-level engineers from among the best teams in Formula 1, all of whom have seen the capacity and potential that exists here at McLaren.
“Nonetheless, this is a long-term process, and this year will be about developing and growing McLaren to a position where we can once again fight at the front.”
What are your thoughts on the driver pairing of Jenson and Kevin? “We all know and like Jenson very much – he’s an integral part of this team now. And Kevin has shown such fantastic promise – both in the junior series, and on the occasions that he has tested for us – that it made absolute sense to develop him as our race driver.
“I really think the beauty of our driver line-up comes from its strength and structure through sheer contrast. In Jenson, we have Formula 1’s unofficial ambassador, somebody who provides us with an unprecedented databank of experience; we can really work with him as we learn together how to develop and refine this year’s car.
“In Kevin, I see a raw, unfettered enthusiasm and a fearsome work ethic. His arrival has been a terrific motivator for the entire team, and I’ve been really pleased and impressed by the way he’s thrown himself into the process. While he’ll naturally need time to acclimatise, we’re undoubtedly of the opinion that he’s ready for F1.
“Additionally, we have Stoffel Vandoorne as our reserve – another driver whose long-term potential is tantalising. He’ll have an increasingly complementary role alongside our two drivers – he’ll be attending all the races where GP2 is on the support bill, and will be heavily dialed in to our trackside operations as we ramp up his learning and experience.
“I think we have a fantastic line-up, and the best thing is that each driver will motivate and inform the other – it’s a win-win situation for the whole team.”