"We still have a long way to go," admits Seidl


Though there is a vast chasm between where McLaren currently stands and the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari, not to mention Mercedes, following those three heart-breaking years with Honda, it's fair to say that the Woking team is currently on a roll.

Without doubt, since joining the team, one of the best moves Zak Brown's has made was the recruitment of Andreas Seidl, former boss of Porsche's LMP1 programme.

Unconcerned with the various other aspects of the McLaren empire, the German has but one mission, to make the F1 team competitive again, to take it out of the midfield and challenging for wins... and titles.

Appointed to the role in January, after being signed in November 2018, Seidl assumed his position on 1 May, and it's fair to say that from the outset he has had a positive impact.

At the end of a season in which the Woking outfit finished fourth in the team standings, claimed its first podium since Melbourne 2014, announced plans for a new simulator and windtunnel and a return to Mercedes power units, Seidl was asked what gave him the most satisfaction.

"It was definitely the way we improved as a team during the season," he says, "and our one team approach through difficult periods when not everything went according to the plan at race weekends.

"Of course, securing P4 in the constructors' championship was a great achievement for all of us because it reflected how we delivered as a team," he adds, "but also, more importantly, how we progressed throughout the year and ensured we had a positive momentum within the team.

"We still have a long way to go and plenty of points on our "to do" list," he admits, "but we have a clear plan and targets that we are continuing working against.

"Also, the positive feedback from media and our incredible fans was really impressive. It's great to feel the support from the outside world and gives the team an additional push on our journey."

Asked if his debut year with the team exceeded expectations, he says: "When I signed for McLaren in November last year, I honestly didn't expect us to fight for P4 in 2019.

"Where we were competing this season in the field is very tight which means each race we had to fight incredibly hard for points to climb up in the championship and nothing was secured until the end of the season.

"Given the difficult times the team went through, this season has been an incredible step forward. It gives us a lot of motivation and energy.

"Looking ahead, we have to keep this momentum up and simply have to keep on pushing in order to achieve our ambitious targets. At the same time, we should never underestimate what our competitors can do. They all have the same high targets and will work very hard towards them as well."

And highlights?

"There were several. First, the French Grand Prix. We were clearly the fourth strongest team in qualifying and in the race, and it was at that moment that we thought we could genuinely fight for P4 in the constructors' standings.

"The developments that we were bringing to the car were working well, and there were plenty more still to come. It was fantastic to see how the team back home in Woking were working hard to develop, produce and deliver the updates during the season.

"Another on-track highlight was the moment we secured P4 in the constructors' table in Brazil. We weren't always the fourth-fastest team this year, but ending up in P4 meant we were the fourth strongest team overall.

"How we improved the car during the season, how we understood our weaknesses and how we pulled off the race weekends - the strategy calls we made, the qualifying performances, the driver performances – were all fantastic and P4 was the well-deserved reward.

"Off-track highlights are clearly major investment announcements including our new windtunnel, a new driving simulator and our switch to Mercedes engines from 2021 onwards. All of them are important milestones for our future development of the team and our way back to the front.

"Finally, the way I was welcomed into the team was a personal highlight for me. To get started in a new team mid-season isn't easy for both sides. So most importantly, I have to say thank you to every single member of the team for the open approach towards me."

The German wasn't the only newcomer to the Woking team, where rookie Lando Norris was partnered by Carlos Sainz, a driver previously shunned by Red Bull and then Renault.

"Carlos had a first great season with us," says Seidl. "He gave very good feedback straight from his first test which continued to help us in driving the development of the car in the right direction.

"Listening to his comments, you'd be forgiven for thinking he's an engineer. He's so precise. He's obviously also very fast, both in qualifying and the race, and he pulled off great races including some aggressive overtaking moves. Ending up in P6 in the driver's championship speaks for itself.

"Lando had a sensational rookie year. Without some of the reliability issues we had on his car this year, like at Spa, where he was forced to retire from fifth place, he could have looked even better in terms of points. But independent of that, the pace he showed was fantastic and his approach inside and outside of the car was very mature.

"F1 teams are big and complex and he dealt with that side of the sport in his first F1 season very well. What I like is his open, honest and self-reflecting approach."

From the outside, the two drivers appeared to get on very well, but was it all that it appeared?

"It is obvious for everyone inside and outside of the team to see that they work together very well," says Seidl. "They approach the challenge with a great spirit and openness between each other. They both understand that this is absolutely required in order to push the team forward to become better and to give them a quicker car in the future.

"As soon as they are in the car it is tough competition, but at the same time it is clear that it is not about the fight between them, it is the bigger picture that counts.

"The drivers are the heroes of this sport and everyone looks up to them, even inside the team. If the drivers show how much they want to be part of the team and how they believe in the team, then the team will give their all for them every day.

"Carlos and Lando's performance this year for the team inside and outside of the car is one of the fundamental reasons why we could make the step we did this year."

Asked where McLaren can improve in 2020, the German is in no doubt. "Everywhere," he replies. "Our aim is to become the best in this sport again in the future and we know that we are far away from this right now.

"We won't get carried away with the good season we've just had," he continues, "we'll stay humble and continue to respect our competitors.

"We are aware of our weaknesses and will continue working hard with the plan we have in place in order to improve. We are on a journey and you can feel great momentum in the team. Our one team approach and the commitment we have from the shareholders means I'm optimistic that we can be successful again, but you need to be realistic about what's achievable year-by-year.

"Motorsport is all about preparation, anticipation and being prepared for different scenarios. When things go wrong, it shows us that we should have prepared better. At the same time, we use it as a motivation to go back home, analyse in detail what happened, learn from it and try to come back stronger.

"Motorsport is a team sport. You can never do it alone. I have a very strong line-up of people reporting into me, with James Key as technical director, Piers Thynne as production director and Andrea Stella as racing director. I have full trust in them and their teams in everything they do and therefore they have my full backing. It is crucial to empower people, to encourage them to make decisions, to allow them to take risks and to back them up if it goes wrong because I accept that mistakes can happen. That's the only way to get better and to improve as a team."

Asked what we might expect from the 2020 contender, like most, Seidl is already looking beyond, to 2021.

"I am very happy with the progress I see in the factory regarding the preparations for the 2020 season," he says. "I think we have a very good understanding of the weaknesses the MCL34 had in 2019 and it is great to see how the entire team is working together very hard on improving.

"I'm optimistic that we can make the next step, which is to further reduce the lap time deficit to the top three teams.

"Like everyone, we want to have a good start to the season," he continues. "The speed of your 2020 car will determine to some degree when you switch all your resources towards 2021. It's a juggling act that we have every year, but it's more extreme this time because of the change in technical regulations for 2021.

"We're not going to sacrifice 2020," he promises, "we want to have another good season because it's important for the development of the team to have continuous improvement."

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 02/01/2020
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