McLaren boss Whitmarsh speaks out in defence of 'brilliant' Hamilton
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has launched a robust defence of Lewis Hamilton and his record in Formula One, even before a wheel has turned in anger for the new season.
McLaren are just five days away from launching the new car they hope will finally propel them ahead of Red Bull following two years of dominance from their Milton Keynes-based rivals, fronted by drivers' champion Sebastian Vettel.
Last season, in particular, was tough for Hamilton who was embroiled in numerous incidents on track, appearing to lose focus at times as personal issues off it also affected him.
Team McLaren: Lewis Hamilton (left) with Martin Whitmarsh (centre) and Jenson Button (right)
Staunch support: Hamilton was strongly backed by Whitmarsh
So when asked whether 'a serious chat' was required with the 27-year-old following 'a tough 2011', Whitmarsh's response was emphatic.
'Lewis won three grands prix in 2011, one of only three drivers to have won more than a single race,' he said.
'The other two were Sebastian and (McLaren team-mate) Jenson (Button). Again, just as most teams have never and will never win six grands prix in a single season, as McLaren did last year, it's equally true to say most drivers have never and will never win three grands prix in a single season, as Lewis did last year.
'Indeed, some of the most compelling highlights of last season's on-track action, from the point of view of a racer's sheer talent shining through, were provided by Lewis. In China, Germany and Abu Dhabi, and in many other places besides, he was awesomely impressive.
Faith: Whitmarsh said Hamilton was truly brilliant
Top: Whitmarsh said Hamilton's record puts him at the top of the Hall of Fame
'Nonetheless, you described 2011 as “a tough season” for Lewis and undoubtedly there's some truth in that. But, such is the level of his ambition that he's his own sternest critic.
'Sometimes, therefore, when things don't go quite right for him, he lets it get to him. We saw that last year sometimes. But it's a measure of his competitiveness, a side-effect of his monumental will to win.
'As such, we wouldn't want Lewis any other way. He's a truly brilliant racing driver – one of the fastest we've ever seen. And that's why, throughout last year, we were always keen to reassure him we were backing him 100%.'
Underlining what Hamilton has achieved with McLaren in his five years in F1 with the Woking-based team, and many more beyond that given he was recruited at an early age, Whitmarsh, speaking to formula1.com, added: 'People have short memories, don't they
'Lewis has been an integral part of McLaren for more than half his life. He's part of the McLaren story and part of the McLaren family, too. He knows that.
'Equally, he's been phenomenally successful in the five seasons he's spent with us as a Formula One driver.
'He's been in contention for the drivers' world championship until the last grand prix of the season in three of those five seasons, and of course he won the drivers' world championship for us in 2008.
'Overall, his record of 17 grand prix
wins from 90 grand prix starts places him in the very top rank in
Formula One's metaphorical hall of fame.'
Treble: Hamilton won three grands prix in 2011
With McLaren due to pull the wraps off the MP4-27 at their factory on Wednesday, Whitmarsh is refusing to give much away, other than to state 'its development is going in the right direction'.
There is, however, an appreciably overwhelming desire to ensure they become champions again this season.
'Everyone at McLaren is already working as hard as is humanly possible to change second to first, and has been all winter,' said Whitmarsh.
'Although that level of commitment necessarily involves personal sacrifice, I don't think our people see it like that. Formula One people are an astonishingly motivated bunch, and McLaren people are even more driven than most.
'McLaren has won 20 world championships in the 46 years it's been competing in Formula One, and that's a stupendous record by anyone's reckoning. Believe me, we fully intend to add to that tally.'