Written by FHM India
Jonathan Neale looks like a man who rarely loses his cool. His soft tone and measured words are befitting of a man entrusted with a hefty responsibility. And being the managing director of the McLaren Formula 1 team definitely fits the bill. The 50 or so Brit has one of the toughest jobs in the world, but you wouldn’t get that impression talking to him.
“Professional sports is a bit brutal,” he begins. “Results are there for everybody to see and the difference between my product and someone else’s product is miniscule. The variation between the top 16 cars is 1.5 percent of the product difference and that between the top 4 cars is less than .15 percent. We’re talking about high levels of performance and slick execution here and F1 is a difficult world. If you don’t execute well or don’t deliver or don’t have the parts or just become distracted by what the opposition is doing, then it’s very difficult to get the results you want. Frankly speaking, a lot of the teams out there would kill for some of the problems that we have,” he jokes.
An old hand at McLaren, Neale knows that the distinction between winning and losing is sometimes just 1/10th of a second. Red Bull, the Formula 1 champions in 2010 and 2011 gave little chance to the rest of the field to play catch up, but McLaren still tried. They managed to accumulate 497 points, 100 more than Ferrari, the third-best team, and won six races. “It’s frustrating that the difference between being there and being great is just so fine. Over the past few decades, we have consistently won races and in the past 10 years we’ve been there or just near the championship title. Some teams have come up and vanished, but we’ve been steady, yet I take no comfort from that. These are records that we’re proud of because we’re here to win races,” the physics-degree holder states.
For a team with two world champions on its rolls, playing catch up to Red Bull sure ain’t easy. To add to that, efforts to make two British icons and famous drivers feel wanted is another juggling act, but Neale just laughs off the obvious attempt to draw comparisons. “Winning is in our blood. It’s a high-pressure environment, but Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are exceptionally good and diligent about being at the factory when they aren’t on the track. Every Sunday, they’re in the garage talking to the engineers and workforce. We line behind them as if they’re the top guns every single time. It’s about self-belief. It’s not a self-determining sport. You’re only as good as your competition.”
And the competition has been brutal. Red Bull amassed 650 points and no one would be betting against them in 2012 either. The MP4-27 though has both the drivers looking and talking confident. Hamilton described the MP4-27, unveiled at the team’s Surrey base in February, as “the finest-looking car we’ve had for some time”.
Neale has more surprises in store. “The car is only a snap shot of a moment in time. It’s constantly being changed and the machine that you saw this morning is the latest incarnation of R&D and will already be obsolete by the time we get to the first races.”
Joined mclaren in 2001 as the operational and engineering guy. As managing director, he now manages operational and technical activities.