Mat Coch writes:
McLaren will feature new members among its pit stop crew as the team looks to eliminate the errors which have blighted its season so far. In Bahrain Lewis Hamilton's race was all but ruined by slow stops while in Malaysia Jenson Button was also a casualty of poor pit work.
"We have made some changes to the team and to the process and you'll see them on Sunday," revealed Martin Whitmarsh in the latest Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-In. The McLaren boss admitted that he was not short of volunteers to join the pit stop crew. "I wondered whether we would get volunteers for the more critical positions and I was astounded by how many guys in the team want to put themselves in those very challenging positions.
"They undertake a huge challenge," Whitmarsh continued. "It's not an easy task and it's being done on very hot components in very dangerous circumstances with the eyes of tens of millions or hundreds of millions bearing down on the back of your neck."
Pitstops however will only be one aspect the world will be watching this weekend; it's hoped the first European race of the season will finally reveal the pecking order which has been unclear thus far. "Not only at the start of the weekend but on Sunday morning to have predicted any of those four winners would have been virtually impossible. I think that's fantastic for the sport," said Whitmarsh.
"This is in a sport where a few years ago no one overtakes. You knew who was going to win before the event started and you certainly knew by Sunday morning," he continued. "For the sport that's very, very exciting and certainly I feel that we're involved in one of the most interesting and intriguing championships - and we've come out of a couple quite interesting years as well.
"I think Formula One at the moment is producing a great show."
Part of that show is a result of the Pirelli tyres, which have been the subject of recent headlines on the back of comments made by Michael Schumacher. Whitmarsh believes the Italian firm's product has played no small part in reinvigorating the series over the last two seasons. "I think it's great having tyres that give drivers and teams a real challenge," he enthuses. "There's no doubt that the tyres are a significant challenge within Formula One but I think we had this last year.
"There have been times when they've certainly given us at McLaren a significant challenge and I think frankly the last race in Bahrain was one of those where we weren't in the right window of operation and that affected our performance in the race quite dramatically. But I think it's probably wrong to criticise the tyre," he said. "You've got to look at what you as a team, what the driver is doing, how you manage the situation. That's part of motor racing."
Another key part of Formula One racing is the endless development march, which this weekend will see McLaren sport a higher nose cone as it debuts a new front wing. "If you look at the detail of it I think the height of the front of the nose is one of the more minor pieces of that new front wing assembly," Whitmarsh says of the nose which briefly debuted at the end of last week's Mugello test. "The attachment pylons are quite a lot different and then the wing, flap, endplates themselves are all subtle differences."
Whether the new wing helps the team is less certain, although Whitmarsh naturally admits the team has found benefits in the updated components. There are others that will find their way on to the cars too, however the underlying question mark remains where the team will find itself come Saturday morning and again on Sunday afternoon in relation to its rivals.
At this early stage rain is expected, which will add spice to a race that many believe will be dominated once again by tyres. "I believe that we'll be competitive in Spain," Whitmarsh urges with just a hint of uncertainty. "(But) you don't know what other teams are going to do."