Martin Whitmarsh has admitted that McLaren made an error in not sending out its cars at the beginning of the qualifying, before the rain got heavier, but defended the team's reliance on technology in changeable conditions.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were eliminated in Q1 when they waited in the pits because the team's weather radar predicted that it would be dry by the end of the session. Instead, the rain increased and the circuit was wetter by the time the two cars took to the track. Hamilton's best time left him 20th, while Button would have progressed to Q2 in 17th had he not spun after setting his time and needed a push to get the car going again.
Just one week after an inspired call in changeable conditions helped Button to win the Australian Grand Prix, McLaren team principal Whitmarsh conceded that the team made the wrong decision today. When asked why his drivers weren't sent out to do a banker lap at the start of the session, he said: "Clearly, we should have done, so the team got it wrong. The drivers, sitting in the car, were ready to go.
"The weather radar has been pretty reliable here. It predicted that it would pass through and we thought it would be dry by the end of the session. If you send a car out to do a banker, there is a risk. These cars are not easy to drive and we believed – as it turned out wrongly – that it was going to be dry and we didn't therefore believe that the risk, as we saw it, of a banker was the right approach. That was wrong.
"By the time we sensed it was time to get out, we'd put our drivers in a difficult situation. There was a lot going on and they had too much to do in difficult conditions. [But] in fairness we got out ahead of the two Ferraris, ahead of [Michael ] Schumacher, ahead of [Nico] Rosberg."
Whitmarsh still defended the team's reliance on technology in changeable conditions, though. "We relied on the weather radar, with the benefit of hindsight we got it wrong and we accept it. People say why didn't you put your hand out in the rain. Well, it was raining and a hand out tells you it is raining, but a hand outside doesn't tell you if it is going to be lighter or heavier in five minutes time. So the only tool we have to do that is the weather radar.
"We had a fantastic example last weekend where it was Jenson's call. He judged it well, just – he did fall off in first segment and got away with it. Often the drivers are in a good position to make that call. This afternoon, the drivers were not in good position, they were sitting in their cars and relied on us to make call."
He still believes that Hamilton and Button can salvage good results from Sunday's race and still believes that victory could be possible if the race is thrown into chaos by the rain and safety cars, as predicted.
"We are not quitters," Whitmarsh said. "We are going to recognize that if it is a dry and uneventful race, then it is pretty difficult from where we have qualified. But whatever happens, I know the team, including Jenson and Lewis, will be pushing hard in the race. With safety cars and circumstances, we will try and capitalize."