Martin Whitmarsh said that McLaren had the quickest car at the Italian Grand Prix today and, but for bad starts by both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, one of his drivers would have taken victory in Monza.
However, Button had to settle for second and Hamilton could only finish fourth after both drivers were held up for many laps behind a fast-starting Michael Schumacher, who also turned out to be very difficult to pass.
“Today our cars were the quickest of the lot – Lewis posted fastest lap, while Jenson took second-fastest lap – but unfortunately our drivers didn't get off to good enough starts,” said the McLaren team principal. “The result was that they spent much of the race stuck behind Michael [Schumacher], whose Mercedes-Benz was remarkably quick in a straight line and extremely 'wide' on the approaches to the corners.
“Meanwhile, Seb [Vettel – the eventual winner] was able to pull away, which was deeply frustrating for us because we knew we had the pace to take the race to him, had our guys got off to better starts.
“But that's motor racing: you've got to qualify well, start well and race well. Well, this weekend we qualified pretty well, we raced very well, but we didn't start well enough.
“Even so, we scored 30 world championship points this afternoon, consolidating our second place in the constructors' world championship and pulling out a margin of 71 points over our closest challenger.
“Now, we embark on a tough run of six fly-away races, starting in Singapore in two weeks' time and ending in Brazil in late November. There are still a lot of points up for grabs, and we'll be doing our damnedest to bag as many of them as we possibly can.”
Button agreed that it was the start that cost him race victory today in Monza. While he was stuck behind other cars at the beginning of the race, Sebastian Vettel was able to build what turned out to be an unassailable lead.
“It's nice to have fought my way back through to second – but it's frustrating to have had a problem at the start with the clutch, because it cost me dearly,” he said. “I dropped back to sixth, then, at the restart, I had no way of keeping Mark [Webber] back, because his straightline speed was so strong, so I slipped to seventh.
“Obviously, that enabled the leaders to get a long way out in front, and I was delayed by a further four or five seconds when Mark and Felipe [Massa] tangled in front of me at Turn One.
“After that, I was able to get my head down and passed Lewis and Michael within the space of about five corners, which was really satisfying. After that, I set about closing down Fernando [Alonso], it was great to be able to secure second because we got some good points for the team.
“On the whole, the team's done a great job this weekend, but it's the little problems that are frustrating: if you have one of those, then you're not going to beat Red Bull and Sebastian. Hopefully, we'll have no problems at the next race because if we can get everything together then we can challenge for a win.”
Hamilton spent virtually half the race trying to get past Schumacher and, despite chasing down Fernando Alonso in the final laps, could not pass the Spaniard and claim a podium. The 2008 world champion has now ruled out the possibility of catching Vettel and depriving him of the title this season.
“It was a good race: I finished and I got some points, so I can't really complain,” said a philosophical Hamilton.
“At the restart, Michael [Schumacher] was on my outside; I was looking at him in my mirrors, then, all of a sudden, the guys ahead had gone, so I missed an opportunity to slipstream Sebastian [Vettel]. So they caught me napping.
“We were a little bit slow on the straight today, which meant it was hard to get past Michael, who was faster along the straight even when I had my DRS activated. I had to really fight Schumacher, but the fact that I finished ahead of him meant everything was okay. That's racing.
“The support we've had in Italy – the weather, the fans – has all been incredible and I'm really looking forward to coming back here again next year.
“I doubt it's still possible to beat Sebastian for the title, but we'll keep pushing. For now, I'm looking ahead to the flyaways – they're going to be exciting and I'm really focused on getting some more wins for the team.”