While we say goodbye to 2019 and hello to 2020, Team Principal Andreas Seidl gives us the lowdown on all things McLaren Formula 1.
When you reflect on 2019, what gives you the most satisfaction?
It was definitely the way we improved as a team during the season 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, 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 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.
Did the team exceed your expectations?
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.
Can you pick a few highlights of 2019?
There were several highlights. 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 Wind Tunnel, 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.
How would you sum up Carlos’s first year with the team?
Carlos had a first great season with us. 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.
Were you impressed by Lando’s maiden season in F1?
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.
How well did the drivers work together?
It is obvious for everyone inside and outside of the team to see that they work together very well. 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.
Where can McLaren still improve in 2020?
Everywhere. 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; 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.
How meticulous are you in your approach to become the best in this sport again?
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.
There was a big step from the MCL33 to the MCL34; what can we expect from the MCL35 in 2020?
First of all, I am very happy with the progress I see in the factory regarding the preparations for the 2020 season. 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.
How early into 2020 will McLaren switch to developing its 2021 car?
Like everyone, we want to have a good start to the season. 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; we want to have another good season because it’s important for the development of the team to have continuous improvement.
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