It's a very exciting day for teh Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Team as they launch their MP4-22 at Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias in Valencia. The McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh talks of his new driver line-up, title sponsor, tyre partner and his hopes for the new MP4-22 challenger.
What are your expectations for the 2007 Formula 1 season?
“Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has the expectation of winning each and every year. Inevitably people can look at our performance last season and be able to criticise us and frankly, we didn't do a good enough job. My feeling, having been at this point of the season on many occasions before, is highly optimistic for 2007. We are devoid of the tyre competition that we have had in recent years; however we are very happy with our relationship with Bridgestone and their technical approach. We have been working hard on the engineering package and believe we have made good progress to improve our performance.
Meanwhile we have what we believe to be the most exciting driver line-up in Formula 1 for many years. Fernando is obviously a very proven product and an extraordinary double World Champion. He is still a very young and ambitious driver who wants to win many World Championships with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. His arrival in the team has been highly motivational.
Alongside Fernando we have the excitement of the debut year for Lewis. We have of course worked with Lewis for a decade so he is very well known to the team. His level of preparation and commitment is unprecedented. He has not only excelled, but exceeded our expectations with all the challenges that we have set him to reach this point. We must be a little cautious and control our enthusiasm because Formula 1 is a very challenging environment, but in time we have little doubt that Lewis will be a winning driver in the sport.
In the meanwhile we have the stability of two great test drivers in our organisation with Pedro and Gary. They've both been an inspiration to the team, with their professionalism and motivation throughout 2006. Their commitment to contributing to the programme is unwavering and we are delighted to have their continuity and experience to support Fernando and Lewis.”
Why did you decide to bring Fernando into the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, and how do you feel he will fit within the team?
“The decision to pursue Fernando as a team member began in 2005. Clearly, even at that time, he was an extraordinary talent. If you are going to be consistently winning in Formula 1 then you need to have the best drivers in the world and we felt that he had those qualities. We were absolutely delighted to secure Fernando during 2005 for the team, and of course his performance in 2006, which in reality only went on to reinforce what was a confidently made decision.”
What are your expectations for Lewis this year?
“The approach Lewis is taking to the build-up to the start of his debut season is with out fault, the dedication he is putting into his preparations is phenomenal. There is already high expectation from within and outside of the team on Lewis, whilst we are very confident that he will have a very strong debut year, we must recognise that being in Formula 1 is extremely difficult. If we look at the World Champions since 1969, they have on average taken over 28 races before their debut win. Clearly we will be seeking to achieve success on the top step of the podium with Lewis quicker than that, but I think it is useful for everyone to remain grounded as to what has gone before with many great World Champions having taken that long to reach that level and remember it is his debut season.”
How are all the drivers working together?
“The drivers clearly have a lot of respect for one another. Fernando has only had one brief moment in the car with us so far but nonetheless his observations and input were very interesting, insightful and stimulating to the team. All four drivers are very intelligent, highly personable and motivated individuals, so the signs are good and we expect that their relationship will develop further and they will form a strong bond during what we hope will be a competitive season.”
This must be an exciting time for the team with two new drivers and a new Title Sponsor, can you explain what it means to be launching the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team today?
“The launch of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team is the culmination of more than a years work from our Marketing colleagues, and it obviously represents an important milestone for our organisation. The nature and structure of the Formula 1 team requires strong Partners to be involved, and with a Title Sponsor with the calibre, energy and breadth of Vodafone, it is a commercially exciting time for the team. Everyone involved in motor racing has the ambition of winning in Formula 1 and has great passion to do so. Therefore with the coming of each season, we look forward to the fresh challenges with anticipation. Vodafone is a highly successful company that wants to win, which is our mission and that of Mercedes-Benz. So we have the three principal Partners in the organisation sharing the same vision. This means we will all, from time to time, put pressure on each other, but that is a useful and stimulating force. In addition to Vodafone, we must also recognise the vital role played by the entire world class Partner group of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team. The support we receive is invaluable and we look forward to what we hope will be a competitive season together in 2007.”
Can you outline what you feel are the values shared by Vodafone and McLaren Mercedes?
“Vodafone is a technology driven company aiming to succeed and be the leader in its field throughout the world. Those are identical visions of McLaren and Mercedes-Benz.”
Why is the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team launching at the Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias in Valencia?
“Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is launching at the Cuidad de las Artes y de las Ciencias because we want to do everything to the highest level of excellence. This facility and its architecture, and the enthusiasm of the Generalitat Valenciana for striving to present itself in the most positive way, similar to ourselves. It is a beautiful backdrop to what we believe will be a spectacular presentation, and would not be possible without the eagerness of the Cuidad de las Artes y las Ciencias.”
What inspires you about Formula 1, particularly given that you have been involved in the sport for nearly 20 years?
“Formula 1 is such a fascinating and exciting sport. It has a combination of many enjoyable and motivational aspects. There is clearly a very strong sporting aspect, and the gladiatorial contest between two drivers that often occurs during World Championship seasons is inspirational to be around. The technology challenge underlying that contest is, for any engineer, scientist or technically motivated individual, inspiring. The pace at which we have to develop technology to remain competitive is significant and therefore exciting. The sport also has a tactical and strategic aspect, which is intriguing, mathematical and intuitive. The general ambience of Formula 1, striving to be the best in the world in technology, and being at the pinnacle of motorsport is an incredibly stimulating environment. The nature and rhythm of Formula 1 means that we are at war for seven months of the year, and then during what people assume is the quiet winter season, we are extremely busy getting ourselves into the best possible shape for the forthcoming season. It is an intriguing period when the enthusiasm for the progress being made in the team leads you to believe that you will dominate the season ahead. In reality, particularly nowadays, the majority of the teams are well funded, well organised, highly competitive organisations who are similarly improving during the closed season. For that period of time it is as though the competitiveness of these teams is removed from our radar screen so it is quite interesting to try and speculate and estimate the performance in the coming season. All of the above creates one of the most stimulating, exciting and passionate environments in which to exist and to dream to aspire to exist within.”