JUNE 14, 2012
Championship "will be like this to the end"
That is the prediction of McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, whose driver Lewis Hamilton moved back to the top of the world championship table with his victory in Montreal.
McLaren also closed to within 31 points of Red Bull Racing in the constructors' championship with Hamilton's first win of the year but team mate Jenson Button had his third successive poor race, which Whitmarsh said is symptomatic of just how difficult F1 is at the moment.
"It's not a long-term concern with Jenson," however, he claimed. "We served him badly in Canada. Every time he pitted (Button, renowned for his feel and sensitivity, was the only driver to make three tyre stops in Montreal) his left rear tyre was completely shot."
Button had lost most of Friday free practice to a gearbox problem and Whitmarsh added: "We didn't long run on the Friday with that particular rear suspension set-up and that was our fault. He had a different set-up and geometry that was excessively hard on tyre wear under traction. It was the same as he had at the start of Friday and different to Lewis's."
The nuances of the 2012 Pirelli tyres and the differences driver-to-driver, even within the same team, have been key features of the season to date.
"I do think this is so close, and the tyres so tricky, that the championship could swing any way," Whitmarsh said. "Every step of the weekend you've got to make the right operational and engineering decisions and it's massively tough. But it's great for F1 and I see it being like this right to the end.
"We might have left Canada with Lewis leading the championship but we're not thinking, 'right, this is it, now we're in cruise mode, we're going to win.' I just wish I could guarantee that we'll be that strong in Valencia!"
Whitmarsh admitted that the closing laps in Montreal were tense, even though McLaren had confidence in its data and was sure that two stops was the correct strategy.
"Lewis was still setting purple (fastest) sector times when we pulled him in for his last stop," he explained, "But I knew that if we were going to do a two-stop, we had to pit early enough to make up the time. If Lewis had not been able to fire up the last set of tyres and Fernando was pushing, they may have been able to open a big enough gap to stop. But Lewis really got the fronts fired in quickly and by his second flying lap he was going purple again and at that point perhaps Ferrari should have seen that they couldn't make the gap to Lewis and that there was a lot of risk in doing what they did.
"Perhaps they were in a bit of a dither between themselves and Vettel -- you can get transfixed by a skirmish with a car and not see the bigger picture. But having said that, the times that Grosjean and Perez were able to do were massively impressive."
Whitmarsh admitted that McLaren is looking forward to some higher speed corner venues as the team has been struggling a little with traction out of lower speed corners.
"The optimist in me says that here comes Valencia, a bit more high speed, and then Silverstone -- yes please! But, this season, that could all be thrown back in my face in a month's time..."