Hamilton “on a mission” in Malaysia

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale says the team accept they made a mistake with Lewis Hamilton’s race strategy at Melbourne but aren’t panicking into making any changes to how they decide race strategy.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday he said:

Both drivers are getting on very well with their new race engineers.

As you saw in Melbourne was had one very happy Jenson Button who was over the moon with the way his team had prepared him for his weekend. I can think we can say now he is fully integrated with the team.

And I think Lewis came in from a different angle, he brought all the excitement, he drove his heart out was overtaking left, right and centre. Was he frustrated to put that much effort in and have so little to show for it? Absolutely, but he certainly doesn’t blame his engineers.

I spoke with Lewis on Monday morning and he wanted me to re-affirm to he team that he was grateful for the hard work and effort that everybody was putting in. And we go to Malaysia with Lewis very much a man on a mission.

Do I think with the benefit of hindsight that we got it wrong? Yes, but it’s like picking the score draws or the winners in football matches on a Monday morning, I can do that as well. With the benefit of hindsight, we got that wrong, that’s just the way it is.

We had a split-second – or, in that case, 30-second – decision to make, we were weighing up a number of options: was Lewis going to get past Robert [Kubica], were the tyres going to degrade more, were we going to be caught by Webber and the Mercedes, who knows?

There are many Formula 1 teams who make mistakes and the great thing about this industry is you get publicly tested in front of ten of the world’s fiercest competitors. We made Lewis world champion and he’s driven some fantastic races. But are we completely mistake-proof? No. Do we try to learn from that every time? Yes.

The same set-up gave Jenson his opportunity, two laps before he came in we told him “we’re ready for you when you decide” and on that one we got it absolutely right and won the race.
Jonathan Neale

He denied the team were rushing to copy Red Bull’s rumoured ride height control system and said increasing downforce was still the number one priority for the MP4-25:

Ride height control is one of a number of things we’re evaluating. I wouldn’t say there’s any silver bullet to explain why Red Bull are particularly quick. Formula 1 is still Formula 1, and it still relies on horsepower and downforce.

I think we need to look very carefully at the tyres and get the benefit out of those, I’m not obsessed by ride height control but I certainly know that if we bolted on another 20 points of downforce we’d go quicker.

And that’s been true last year and the year before: our principle focus a the moment is to bring aerodynamic upgrades to the car under these regulations. That will have two effects: one of which is straight lap time through better traction and the other is a greater return on investment from the tyres because as downforce goes up the tyres come in quicker.

Ride height control is something we’re considering but it’s not my prime focus at the moment. I just need to get some more downforce on this car.
Jonathan Neale

He also feels the team can improve its qualifying performances which are particularly important given how difficult the drivers are finding it to overtake:

The car feels good in the high-speed corners, the guys are very happy with the balance of the car. Every team is still looking at what we do with the option tyre, particularly in qualifying, and see how you get it to come in.

As we saw in Australia Renault got themselves into a really good position in the early part of the race. Robert drove a really good race but the Ferraris, which are no slouches those cars, driven by two very good drivers, struggled to get around him.

And then when Lewis closed at one-and-a-half to two seconds per lap the moment that he got in behind the cars the handing of his car just became different because you’re running in the turbulent air. So we’ve still got to really focus on what we do in qualifying because we’ve got aggressive drivers and we’ve got good straight line pace and we have to make sure we don’t squander those opportunities on Saturday.
Jonathan Neale

The team is bringing some minor aerodynamic changes for the Malaysian Grand Prix but are mindful of the weather which looks set to be wet throughout all three days:

There are updates for Malaysia. There are some aerodynamic details around the floor, I don’t know that you’ll see anything radical.

Looking at the moment it’s torrential rain out there and the best information I have it’s going to be another wet weekend so it promises to be an exciting race. Malaysia as a circuit has some high-speed corners which will suit the car but we’ve still got work to do in low-speed traction and make the best of our straight-line performance.

I think it’s going to be eventful, I don’t think it’s going to be a boring race!
Jonathan Neale