Lewis Hamilton’s victory in the Canadian Grand Prix came as a huge relief not just to the 2008 World Champion, but to the whole McLaren organisation.
Following Jenson Button’s superb win in the opening race in Australia, the team endured five frustrating weekends during which a variety of factors prevented its qualifying pace being converted into race success.
The team suffered from poor pitstops, technical gremlins and – like everyone else – struggled to get fully on top of the 2012 Pirelli tyres. And that has remained a problem for Button, who has struggled to match his team-mate.
McLaren is not the only top team to have rued missed opportunities during the opening part of the season, when the tyres made it impossible for anyone to predict what might happen at each race. But team boss Martin Whitmarsh sees a bigger picture and agrees that uncertainty has been good for the sport.
“I think it’s challenging,” he told Motor Sport. “It’s so tight. Every millisecond counts and that creates a lot of pressure, not just in our team. The balance is great for the fans, with us not knowing our competitiveness from one day to the next. I think it’s good that a bit of wind or track temperature change has that scale of impact on the relative competitiveness of the teams.”
Unlike some of his peers, Whitmarsh does not see the impact of the tyres as being a negative factor.
“It’s a little bit like the DRS argument. For us purists, it’s very easy to react against things that are apparently artificial. But if you go back three or four years, you’ve got to understand that we were defending ourselves at almost every Grand Prix about the lack of overtaking and the predictability. If you put yourself on pole, there was a more than 80 per cent probability that you would win the race.
“We have to accept that if we’re going to attract hundreds of millions of people to turn on the TV and want to watch us, then we need to be unpredictable and challenging. Some big teams have moments of frustration, but I think that overall the sport is healthier in that regard. No one can really make claims that there isn’t an exciting spectacle.
“At the end of this year, the question will be whether or not we have a worthy World Champion. I suspect we will and that’s what counts.”
The Montréal win (above) came at a good time, since McLaren heads to Silverstone carrying the weight of expectation of the many Hamilton and Button fans.
“Undeniably there’s a sense of responsibility,” says Whitmarsh. “Nowadays you go to the British GP, look into the stands and see the fans coming in and the number of caps and shirts that support our team.
“You can’t avoid the sense of not wishing to let them down and give them a good day out. That’s a fact and I find it quite a big thrill.
“There is an expectation on this team and it is probably higher than any other, with the exception of Ferrari in Italy. I wouldn’t want it any other way, for us to head quietly into any race without the expectation that we are going to go out there and win.”