There’s nothing like a positive attitude to turn a team around. And while over at Ferrari we find Kimi stringing together longer sentences than ever before*, with:
“My debut in the Ferrari went well, but honestly I had hoped for something more: I would have liked to drive it more in the dry instead of for just five laps. Yes, I’m happy, but I could have been a lot more. The seven tenths gap to Massa is surely down to that, because I didn’t have time to change some things in the car. These things can happen when you’re looking for the limit. I tried to, but I still don’t know much about the car, and in any case I never lost control so in the end the spin turned out to be quite enjoyable. No, there’s no point, the program is right as is. I look closely at the F2007 because I like it, and when I test it myself next week I’ll know more about it. There are many things different, I will have to get used to them, but I’m not exactly a rookie. There’s still a lot of pressure, I don’t see differences from McLaren, of which I don’t want to talk about anyway. It was a bit emotional, but in the circumstances I was more interested in the technical aspects than the emotional ones.”
But that’s not the biggest change, oh no, the biggest change is over at McLaren where everyone seems to be genuinely happy. Just listen to these quotes, all from Autosport:
“I call it ‘new McLaren’ because with all the new sponsors and everything it feels like a new team, and all the people are so excited about this new year, this new project, after not having success in the past, they feel that this is the year to come back.
“I feel confident. I feel more confident even than last year at the beginning of the season. We changed from V10 to V8, I was in Renault, I was thinking what’s going to happen this year with the V8? This year with McLaren I’m not thinking what is going to happen with the new team, I think it will be OK with the new team.
“With the team I’ve been working 10 days in a row basically in January, and it feels very good. The atmosphere in the team has really impressed me, how they focus on winning.
“It’s probably the nicest car I’ve had in my hands, but we need it to be quick, not nice, so we’ll see. I think all the information we have now from the wind tunnel and the engine side, it’s so good, it’s maybe too good to be real! So we need to put the car on the track and see what exactly is the performance of this year’s car.”
“I think Fernando has a distinctive driving style by comparison with his colleagues in F1 – clearly a pretty effective one – and there was a thought inevitably to what extent does he tune that to Renault, or was the Renault being tuned to him, it was a much lesser issue, virtually no issue at all, when we put him in the car with next year’s tyres. It was a very confidence-boosting day for him and the team.
“However much you try to do everything the best possible way, it’s useful having someone who is astute and intelligent with the credibility of Fernando to come and say why are you doing that, why are you doing this?
“It’s early days yet. There are mixed emotions. You’d like him to come on board and say, ‘This is perfect, I can’t improve upon it.’ I’ll be pleased when he finds – which he will do – things that he can contribute to. And I think there’s every sign that he will.”
“Lewis will I think be a help for the team, in a way he has no experience, so we can think that maybe he’s not helping the team, at least at the beginning of the season. But I think completely the opposite. I think because he’s young and quick he can give us some fresh ideas into the team, and some fresh air, that maybe we need. Because sometimes F1 teams get stuck in some of the ideas, traditions, things like that, and I think we can get something from Lewis.
“We will be doing teamwork a lot. I think it’s one of the things that are changing in McLaren a lot this year. They’re really focusing on the team, on getting both drivers the same conditions, and between us we’ll work together to improve the car. I think Lewis will have a very good opportunity because between all of us, we can improve.
“I will learn things from him, because as I said sometimes it’s fantastic to change your ideas, and he will learn a lot from everybody in the team as well. I feel really, really optimistic with this relationship.
“There are always top teams like Ferrari, Renault, Honda that will be fighting for sure,” he said. “And maybe surprises, like maybe Toyota are quick this year, or BMW. Who knows? But at the end of the year there will be only two of these teams fighting for the championship, and hopefully McLaren will be one of them.”
Team spirit like that is infectious and can’t be faked. Hearing all that made me upgrade my thoughts about McLaren this year. You might say that all of this talk is all very well but it can’t make the car go any faster. But we know that it can. Great teamwork and leadership from the front drivers is exactly the way to motivate the hard working team of engineers back home. They need to feel part of the front line gang rather than blamed when things go wrong and forgotten when things go right. Only the class acts remember their teams unprompted when they win. All of this could help Alonso get those extra tenths.
So are their any clouds on the horizon? Well apparently there may be. There are rumours that the surprise sale of a section of McLaren to a third party were a snub to Mercedes who depending on who you believe were not willing to pay enough money to Ron to clear the debt he’d always wanted to clear. Or because Ron felt that Mercedes shouldn’t be more involved because they hadn’t been pulling their weight in the deal. Ron felt that he’s provided the drivers and chassis for a world championship run but it’s been squandered by the Mercedes engine team. And so he didn’t want them to have even more control.
What used to be standard has now become unique. McLaren Mercedes are now the only constructor team with an exclusive engine deal. Did Mercedes get a bit grabby behind the bikesheds? And did Ron have to give them a bloody nose? Only time will tell. But if this relationship starts to unravel then all the team spirit in the world won’t make the slightest difference.
* I know Nick challenged my assertion about Kimi’s lack of dialogue. But I think Nick and I probably agree about the amount Kimi spoke to the press. Whereas before we were disagreeing as to whether this same reticence occurred while he was debriefing his team.