McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh wants his outfit to build on the surge of support it has received from fans this year by setting its sights on usurping Ferrari as Formula 1's biggest brand.
Whitmarsh reckons the performance of his team this year, plus the popularity of its drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, has left his team capturing the fans' hearts more than he has ever known. He says that the encouragement he took from seeing such support at Silverstone a fortnight ago has left him setting ambitious long-term goals for McLaren.
"We had unprecedented support at the British Grand Prix – at levels I had never seen," said Whitmarsh, speaking in the McLaren Brand Centre in the Hockenheim paddock. "I drove in on Friday morning from the east side and, as I drove in, I got stopped because they were letting people cross the road. And I was cursing that I was being held up.
"But then after a couple of minutes, I realized that 50 percent of them were wearing either a McLaren cap or a McLaren shirt and I have never seen anything like that – not just with McLaren.
"The other factor is that I sat there and for about five minutes of letting these people stream by I didn't see a Ferrari cap, which you always used to see even in Britain. I have never experienced in 22 years of this team the feeling of support that we are enjoying. I have to say it's largely down to the drivers – from their performance in a car but also their performance out of a car.
"They are both attractive personalities, honest human beings that I think people can relate to. And there is a tremendous feeling. We've had times when we've been performing well, winning races, easily winning championships but we have never felt the support that we've had this year, which is fantastic."
Whitmarsh thinks McLaren can build on its current position, and even overtake Ferrari as the main "brand" in the F1 pitlane – even though he reckons the two squads are now closer than they have ever been.
"We talk much more affectionately about Ferrari now than we ever have, and I do have a lot of respect for Ferrari as a brand, as a race team and the people that run it," he said. "But nonetheless for years you saw Ferrari merchandise everywhere around the world, or everywhere around the world in Formula 1 venues, and you've got to say there's considerably less now than I think our own team."
He added: "My opinion is that the biggest brand in Formula 1 today is Ferrari. And I acknowledge and accept it. McLaren I think is the second biggest brand in Formula 1 by a reasonable margin from whoever is the third.
"It might not be even in my career but in 10 years', 20 years' time, why can't we be the biggest brand? Twenty years ago that would have sounded ridiculous to say, but I don't think it sounds so ridiculous now. Hopefully in 10 years' time it will sound even more realistic and in 20 years' time we'll have done it.
"But I say that with the utmost affection and respect for Ferrari. I hope, incidentally, that Ferrari give us a hard time and I'm sure they are saying, 'We're the tops in terms of brand and we are going to stay there.'"