McLaren chief lauds Hamilton for 'humanity'
As Martin Whitmarsh officially takes over today from Ron Dennis as team principal at McLaren, he confesses that he has two overriding concerns: to win the first race, in Melbourne at the end of the month, and see Lewis Hamilton retain his World Championship title.
Whitmarsh joined McLaren a year after Ayrton Senna won his first World Championship in 1988, and was instrumental in bringing on Hamilton, who he believes stands comparison with the great Brazilian.
"Early in 1990 Ayrton ripped the bottom out of the chassis of a McLaren MP4/5B when he spun at Silverstone," says Whitmarsh. "He walked into my office at the factory and apologised for writing off the car. And there was me, I had been in the industry two minutes! He was a charming individual who never failed to find every opportunity to gain a psychological advantage. And he had that massive intensity to him, though he was always polite.
"I first met Lewis as a kid when he was at the dinner where he first approached Ron, and I placed him in Formula Renault, Formula Three and GP2 before we decided to give him his chance to race at McLaren. So the relationship is different. The incredible thing with him is the depth of his humanity. That can occasionally make him vulnerable, but he has matured extraordinarily into a man and a world champion and has not changed as much as I would have feared.
"Ayrton had fewer dimensions, just that pure intensity, whereas Lewis is a fuller human being and his humanity is the great strength that gives him a fuller life. They both had charisma, whereas some of the greats have been nasty bastards.
"Lewis is less impervious but manages it all incredibly well and has been battle-hardened unlike any other. He wanted to be world champion since he was eight and now he is. That can be an anticlimax and I think after Brazil last year he did have a little bit of a dip because he'd done it. But now he wants to prove he is a multiple world champion and the pressure is back in a very positive way."
Whitmarsh is relishing the chance to take the reins. "Ron and I have common views, but I am not an Identi-Kit of him. On the fundamental issues of how to go motor racing we are very similar in how we approach things. We want to provide the best technology and opportunities for both of our drivers."
But he is acutely aware that form is hard to predict. "Our car is good and we will be bolting on a fair amount more performance to it, but who knows? Maybe others have done better and found something we haven't.
"I am a competitive person and being team principal adds a little zing this year. But in 12 months' time I don't want to be the team principal who did not help Lewis to win the World Championship again, so that does add pressure."
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