IT'S quite a while ago now but early in 1990 Ayrton Senna ripped the bottom out of the chassis of a McLaren MP4/5B when he spun at Silverstone. He walked into my office at the factory and apologised for writing off the car. And there was me, I had been in the industry two minutes, listening to one of the greats saying sorry. He was a charming individual who never failed to find every opportunity to gain a psychological advantage. And he had that massive intensity to him, though he was always polite.
I first met Lewis Hamilton as a kid when he was at the dinner where he first approached Ron Dennis, and I placed him in Formula Renault, Formula Three and GP2 before we decided to give him his chance to race here at McLaren. So the relationship is different. The incredible thing with him is the depth of his humanity. That can occasionally make him vulnerable, but he has matured extraordinarily into a man and a world champion. And crucially, he has not changed as much as I would have feared.
Comparing the two, Ayrton had fewer dimensions, just that pure intensity, whereas Lewis is a fuller human being and his humanity is the great strength that gives him a fuller life. They both had charisma, whereas some of the greats have been nasty bastards.
Lewis is less impervious but manages it all incredibly well and has been battle-hardened unlike any other. He wanted to be world champion since he was eight and now he is. That can be an anticlimax and I think after the Brazil Grand Prix last year he did have a little bit of a dip because he'd done it. But now he wants to prove he is a multiple world champion and the pressure is back in a very positive way
As for my own future, taking over from Ron is a really great honour. I said at the time that he stepped down that it didn't feel like a bombshell to me – Ron had reached that point and I was keen for him to dictate a timeframe – but I certainly didn't push him. I'd worked with Ron for 20 years and he had an incredible career, but Formula One is changing and evolving and so is this business.
Both Ron and I have common views, but I am not an Identi-Kit of him. On the fundamental issues of how to go motor racing we are very similar in how we approach things. We want to provide the best technology and opportunities for both of our drivers. Our car is good and we will be bolting on a fair amount more performance to it, but who knows? Maybe others have done better and found something we haven't.
I am a competitive person and being team principal does add a little zing this year. But in 12 months' time I don't want to be the team principal who did not help Lewis to win the World Championship again, so that does add pressure. I want him to go on so I can draw many more comparisons between him and Ayrton Senna.
Martin Whitmarsh is the new team principal at McLaren
In conversation with David Tremayne