Memorable McLaren Moments :: Korea
It’s always exciting to arrive at a new circuit for the first time. Learning the track and optimising the car for unfamiliar territory is a race in itself.
The Korean Grand Prix joined the F1 calendar last year, and what a weekend it was. With three races to go, Lewis and Jenson were 28 and 31 points behind Mark Webber, the championship leader. The maths were tight but we had no intention of giving up the title fight.
We brought a significant upgrade package for the MP4-25, including new front and rear wings. We had tested some of the parts in practice for the previous round in Japan, but poor weather on the Saturday meant we held back on racing them until we could evaluate them further. After a very encouraging first day in Korea we decided that the upgrades were ready to race.
The track conditions were very challenging, and although the surface rubbered-in it remained cold and slippery. Lewis qualified fourth while Jenson struggled to get his tyres up to optimum temperature, couldn’t find any grip, but still set the seventh fastest time.
Lewis felt he had a good chance of winning and was itching to race, but he was going to have to wait. Sunday dawned cold and wet, and the clouds showed no signs of clearing as the day wore on. Ten minutes after the scheduled time the race started behind the Safety Car, and we waited for conditions to improve, expecting the passage of the cars to displace the standing water.
As the rain intensified it became clear we would have to stop. The grid reformed, and up and down the pitlane eyes flitted between the skies and the weather radar. It was nearly an hour before we got underway again, once again behind the Safety Car.
Within a handful of laps Lewis’s voice came over the radio: “Come on! Conditions are good. There’s no aquaplaning at all. Start the race!”
After 13 laps it was time for someone other than Safety Car driver Bernd Maylander to lead as the race went green. He would return on two more occasions, though, as drivers up and down the grid fell foul of the slippery conditions and diminishing visibility.
Lewis fought wheel-to-wheel battles with his old team-mate Fernando Alonso and multiple World Champion Michael Schumacher, eventually finishing a tremendous second. Jenson found so little grip that his front brakes kept locking, and after several pit stops for different tyres he crossed the finishing line 12th. He was disappointed, but even when running out of the points there was never any question of giving up.