We see it all the time in sport: returning to the scene of past glories is always fraught with jeopardy. Can it ever be the same or better for someone who previously enjoyed great success? If the comeback falls flat, could it even sully what might once have been an unimpeachable reputation?
Martin Whitmarsh knows all this, yet he has still taken the bait for another crack at Formula 1. He spent 25 years at McLaren, experiencing the unforgettable highs of working with Ayrton Senna and Mika Häkkinen, playing a formative role in the early career of Sir Lewis Hamilton and rising to the position of team principal, before Ron Dennis manoeuvred him out in 2014.
Now he’s coming back – but not at the team he loved and where he gave so much. Whitmarsh back in F1 but not at McLaren will take some getting used to for those who know and respect him as well as for the man himself.
He has been recruited by Aston Martin chairman Lawrence Stroll as the CEO of Aston Martin Performance Technologies, a new company that will manage the brand’s driving F1 ambitions. Team principal Otmar Szafnauer will report to Whitmarsh, who has been tasked with delivering Stroll’s ambitions of wins and titles, from a new 400,000sq ft, £200 million factory that’s currently under construction at Silverstone.
If Whitmarsh can lead Aston Martin to success, it might well match or even exceed his personal achievements at McLaren. But he will know as well as anyone that it’s a tall order – and racing against his old team is bound to twinge.
Far from a forgotten man
Autocar last spoke to Whitmarsh this time last year, when Hamilton broke Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 91 grand prix victories. Conversations with him are rarely short, but after happy reminiscences of his time working closely with a driver he regards in the same bracket as Senna, we couldn’t help but ask: would you ever come back to F1?