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McLaren team principal admits 'big mistakes'

Martin Whitmarsh has failed to guide McLaren to a world championship title  since becoming team principal in 2009.

Story highlights

  • McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh admits 'big mistakes' in 2013 season
  • McLaren without a podium finish in year of 50th anniversary
  • Whitmarsh says Jenson Button and Sergio Perez "deserve" to be at McLaren next season

Honesty is often a rare virtue at the highest level of sport, especially when it comes to admitting mistakes, so McLaren fans may give Martin Whitmarsh some begrudging respect after the team principal accepted responsibility for a catalog of errors this season.

The United Kingdom-based constructor may have won twelve drivers' championships since its creation in 1963 but none will be added in the year of McLaren's 50th anniversary.

Neither Jenson Button nor Sergio Perez have managed to stand on the podium all season, with the Briton's fifth place in the third race in China the best finish so far.

Mexican Perez, 23, has won 18 points in his first season with McLaren while Button, who won the 2009 title with Brawn, can only muster 47, trailing leader Sebastian Vettel by 150 points -- or the equivalent of six race victories with just eight rounds left.

Read: Activists protest as Vettel wins Belgian GP

The problem is that McLaren are currently on course for their first season without a grand prix win in seven years.

    A number of hasty changes to the car have made racing this year both "painful and difficult" for Whitmarsh as he revealed in an open interview with Formula One's official website.

    "This year we have made some big mistakes -- that is very obvious, and difficult to rectify," the Briton said. "I don't like it, but there is no point in hiding from it."

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    The 55-year-old traces the roots of the problems back to the middle of last season, when McLaren dropped off the pace after a bright start.

    At this point, the car was redesigned, with significant changes to the height of the nose, the configuration of both the front and rear suspensions, as well as the bodywork and exhaust layout.

    "In a word, we did too many things which were deviating from a car which was the fastest car about nine or ten months ago," the McLaren official said.

    "The start of the 2012 was good, but then in mid-season we were falling behind and it is about that time that you make these decisions -- and then last year's car became quicker and quicker.

    "It was bad timing, it was misjudgment, and it was ambition. It is very clear in hindsight that we've got it wrong. But let's also be fair: this car is now quicker than last year's car."

    Nonetheless, it is still struggling to make any impact in the constructors' standings, with 11 races of the 19-round season having already gone.

    McLaren's tally of 65 points is almost tripled by the team immediately above them in the standings, fourth-placed Lotus, while the Woking outfit's total is dwarfed by the 312 boasted by Red Bull, who lead the way.

    When asked who should carry the can for the failed redesign of the car, Whitmarsh resisted any temptation to seek out scapegoats.

    "Ultimately I take the blame for it," he said. "I am happy to name names when we are successful and give them the opportunity to stand on the podium, but it is my job when things haven't gone so well to take the responsibility."

    Critics of Whitmarsh, who has been with McLaren for a quarter of a century, will point to the team's inability to win a championship since he replaced the retiring Ron Dennis in 2009, a year after the team's last championship title.

    The closest McLaren came to a championship under his control was in 2010 when Lewis Hamilton had a chance of winning the title on the final day of the season, only for Vettel to take the glory.

    There has been some good news for Whitmarsh this week though.

    At Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix, Button felt the car performed the best it had all season with the Briton, 33, also publicly stating in recent days how he hopes to sign a new three-year contract with the team.

    Whitmarsh had considered trying to lure Kimi Raikkonen, who has been in great form this year, back to McLaren for next season, revealing that talks last year to the same effect failed "for various reasons".

    Read: Raikonnen wants to stay with Lotus

    However, he also feels he owes the current stable a car that will enable them to challenge far higher up the table.

    "We haven't given our drivers the car we should have done this year. But they've been fantastic ambassadors and I think they deserve another go with us next year.

    "If we give them a car that is good enough, they both can win. We know that."

    And having had a front row seat for more than 100 of McLaren's 182 grand prix wins, Whitmarsh is confident that the team can turn itself around ahead of the 2014 season.

    "Looking over the last 20 years, we are pretty consistent," he rallied. "Yes, this is a bad year but usually we come back strong -- and that is what we will do next year."