McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh vows to use recent controversies as a learning curve for the future

    Turn Two

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    McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh vows to use recent controversies as a learning curve for the future

    Post by Turn Two on 6th April 2009, 16:51

    Whitmarsh: I will learn from my mistakes

    Martin Whitmarsh has vowed to learn from mistakes he made in handling the turmoil that engulfed McLaren at Sepang last week – admitting he misjudged the gravity of the situation and did not foresee it spiralling out of control.

    A saga that began with an apparently inconsequential exchange of positions behind the safety car in Melbourne had snowballed into a full-blown crisis by last Thursday, forcing Lewis Hamilton to make an unprecedented public apology the following day for deceiving race officials.

    Whitmarsh, who suspended the team's sporting director Dave Ryan on Friday morning, confessed on Sunday that he had been slow to appreciate what was at stake and to inform himself of what had been said at the initial stewards’ meeting in Australia.

    He said he regretted not cutting short a holiday in Indonesia, which meant he didn’t arrive at Sepang until Thursday afternoon – by which time Hamilton and Ryan had already been summoned to a second stewards’ meeting and most of the damage had been done.

    “One of the criticisms against me is that I was on holiday, that I didn't arrive here in time,” said Whitmarsh.

    “And I have got deep regret about that.

    “But clearly as I left Australia on Sunday evening I wasn't aware of an issue.

    “An issue started to be reported on Wednesday, which I was told about, but frankly I did not believe the scale of it nor the speed of it.

    “I didn't know that the Australian stewards would be here and I hadn't imagined – and again this was maybe a big misjudgement on my part – but I hadn't imagined that there was going to be a stewards’ hearing here.”

    Premature defence

    Speaking to the media on Thursday, Whitmarsh initially denied that Hamilton and Ryan had lied or tried to conceal a key radio instruction so the stewards would be more likely to find in their favour.

    But that partial defence soon unravelled when the FIA revealed that Hamilton and Ryan had not merely failed to volunteer evidence but had made false claims when asked specific questions about the radio conversation.

    Whitmarsh said he had defended the pair out of misplaced loyalty and without knowing all the facts, having failed to do sufficient “homework”.

    “I had a human instinct, which was wrong probably, to defend colleagues, both Davey and Lewis.

    “And in doing that and jumping to their defence, I hadn’t done the necessary homework, which I am deeply regretful of.

    “Lewis told me on Thursday evening that he felt he had lied.

    “Davey still did not, but I reflected on it overnight, and had to come to the view that I had to suspend Davey.

    “I told the FIA what had happened and explained it to them on Friday.”

    Whitmarsh said he had not asked Ryan to relate what had been said at the original stewards’ meeting because he had expected it to be routine and left the track promptly on Sunday evening.

    And he claimed his holiday and late arrival in Malaysia also explained why there was no high-level discussion within the team – in which Ryan and Hamilton’s false testimony would surely have come to light – prior to the second stewards’ meeting.

    “By the time I was here, obviously in the aftermath on Thursday evening, I spoke again to Davey and I spoke to Lewis, and there was a degree of denial still going on there,” he said.

    “That’s why I had decided to speak to the FIA but after a night of reflecting on it, and why I came to the decision I did on Friday morning.”

    Duty of care

    The decision to suspend Ryan, which Whitmarsh said he made on his own and not in response to any outside pressure, was regarded by some as a cynical ploy to portray the New Zealander – a McLaren stalwart who had joined in 1974 – as the sole villain and Hamilton as an innocent victim.

    But Whitmarsh said he would have been criticised whatever course of action he had taken.

    “It was my decision, and it’s one of those issues where on the one hand if you do it you are accused of scapegoating, and if you don't do it you are accused of not taking matters seriously enough.

    “So I realised in this situation that there wasn't going to be a right outcome and certainly I was going to be judged badly either way.”

    And he argued that while Hamilton rightly accepted his share of the blame, ultimately the team had failed in its “duty of care” towards him and had to bear the brunt of the responsibility.

    “Lewis is still a young man, but he is a world champion and he’s got to be accountable and responsible for his actions,” he said.

    “He is an important ambassador to this sport, and I think the greatest shame is that we as McLaren haven't led him well enough to uphold the standards that I know he intended to and wanted to.

    “We’ve got to lead him and direct him and that duty of care we failed on and that's something that we are deeply apologetic for.”

    Learning curve

    Asked whether this affair had changed his perception of the role of team principal, Whitmarsh replied: “I think it’s been an accelerated learning curve, let's put it like that.

    “I have been in this team for 20 years and I hope over those years I have made some contribution.

    “This has been an experience that perhaps I wasn’t as prepared for.

    “McLaren, with Lewis Hamilton in it and with this sort of controversy gets a fair bit more attention than most of us are accustomed to. So I’ve got to learn from that.

    “I hope that once we’ve understood, learned from this, and can come out of it, then we can return to focusing on being a racing team, which is what I joined in the first place to do.”

    He said the biggest lesson he and McLaren needed to learn was how they had allowed a minor dispute over track position to escalate into an epic public relations disaster.

    “Anyone who sits back and looks at what this started from… it is quite ridiculous,” he said.

    “Although people like the idea of conspiracies or those sorts of things, it was an innocuous and silly incident in which we weren’t guilty of anything that has led to this.”

    Up to the shareholders

    Whitmarsh’s own position has inevitably come under scrutiny and he refused to rule out standing down from his post.

    “It wouldn’t be true if I said I wasn’t [contemplating his future] because at a time like this you think about what you got involved in this sport for, and it wasn’t for this sort of thing,” he said.

    “You also think about what’s best for the company and this great team.

    “It hasn’t been a great experience for me; this wasn’t what I started out 20 years ago to experience.

    “However, the loss of Davey has left a huge hole. He ran this team, let’s be frank.

    “There are various people who have been the figureheads of this organisation, but Davey ran this team – he made the operational decisions, he made it happen.

    “To contemplate the future without Davey has been challenging in the extreme.”

    But he said he had been heartened by the support of colleagues and intended to do his best to normalise the situation in the coming weeks.

    “I think I’ve been very fortunate, in that there have been some deeply painful moments for me over the course of this weekend, but there have surprisingly been one or two moments where your faith in this team and in humanity is restored.

    “Some very kind things have been said, I’ve had fantastic support from within the team, and I owe it to not just the people here, but there are a thousand people in Brixworth, Woking and Stuttgart who concentrate on this programme, and I’ve got to do what I think is best to stabilise a very difficult situation.

    “In the longer term, I can contemplate my own future.”

    Whitmarsh said his fate would ultimately be decided by McLaren’s shareholders.

    “Of course it’s not self-determining; it’s for the shareholders of this team to take a view,” he said.

    “They have to decide what’s the best thing.

    “There’s a representative of the largest shareholder sat alongside me [Mercedes-Benz motorsport boss Norbert Haug], and I think ultimately it’s for those people to decide what happens in this team, not me.

    “I’m not resigning this weekend. We’ve made a commitment to look at how we arrived in this situation, we’ve got to learn from it and do a better job in future.

    “I think therefore it’s wrong to rule anything out. I think I’ve got to look at what is the best way forward for this team and how can we be better in future.”



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