McLaren ’50 in 50′: Martin Whitmarsh

Martin Whitmarsh is the current Team Principal of Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes, having taken over the role from Ron Dennis at the start of 2009. He has been with McLaren for over 20 years, initially joining as Head of Operations in 1989.

Whitmarsh comes from an engineering background. He graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1980 and went to work at British Aerospace. There he worked first as a structural analysis engineer before being promoted to work in advanced composite structures research and development. By 1988 he had become Managing Director but left the company to join McLaren in 1989.

His initial role at McLaren was Head of Operations. After eight years with the team he became Managing Director of McLaren Racing. In 2004 he was promoted to CEO of McLaren’s Formula One operation. In 2009, when Ron Dennis chose to step down from his role as Team Principal so he could focus his attention on other aspects of the McLaren Group, in particular Automotive, Whitmarsh was promoted to the job. It was a baptism of fire as McLaren suffered a difficult start to their Formula One season. Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from the Australian Grand Prix after ‘liegate’, when he lied to the stewards about a pass involved Jarno Trulli and the safety car. Heikki Kovalainen also had a difficult start to the season, failing to get past the first lap of either of the first two races. A few points finishes was followed by a string of disappointing results for McLaren but, after Hamilton won the Hungarian Grand Prix, the team managed to get their season on track. They scored more points than any other team in the second half of the season and finished the year in third behind Brawn GP and Red Bull.

Whitmarsh is now arguably facing his toughest challenge yet with McLaren. In 2013 the team have failed to get any podiums and at times have struggled to finish in the points. With the deflection of Hamilton to Mercedes, McLaren have Sergio Perez driving alongside Jenson Button. The Mexican has come under some harsh criticisms since his debut for McLaren and Whitmarsh asked him to ‘toughen up’. McLaren are under increased pressure to provide results, and with big changes coming in 2014, they will be hoping they can get back to the front.

In an interview published on the official Formula One website, Whitmarsh said: ” We are our own harshest critics. This year we have made some big mistakes – that is very obvious, and difficult to rectify. I don’t like it, but there is no point in hiding from it. We’ve won 182 Grands Prix and I have been around for more than a hundred of them and, of course, it is much more enjoyable to go motor racing with the prospect of winning. We don’t enjoy going racing without that prospect, so it’s now painful and difficult, but that’s life.”

As well as being in charge of McLaren for the past five years, Whitmarsh has chaired the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA).  Seven of the current teams are members of FOTA (McLaren, Mercedes, Force India, Marussia, Caterham, Williams and Lotus), which aims to promote Formula One and enhance its worldwide reputation. It gives the teams a collective voice when it comes to negotiating with the FIA. Whitmarsh revealed this year that he would not stand for re-election as chairman as he feels it would be beneficial for someone else to take on the role.

Whitmarsh completes the posts on the four Team Principals. Tomorrow’s post will look at McLaren’s history at the Italian Grand Prix!

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