Like with Mercedes, McLaren have an interesting dynamic between their two drivers and much hype surrounded the team prior to the season starting earlier this month. With two world champions driving for the same team, competition is expected to be high at the far end of the pitlane. Furthermore, both drivers are British and one has a slightly troubled past with a previous world champion team mate. But while many were expecting the sparks to fly from the first race, everything looks relatively calm at McLaren. Almost too calm, you could speculate.
Lewis Hamilton endured a very difficult debut season in 2007. Although a rookie, Hamilton has been brought up by the McLaren family and knows the team very intimately. His pace though was a surprise to newcomer to the team, Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard was – and is – a respected race winner and from the first race in Australia that year, the relationship between the pair was starting to show signs of bubbling over.
Since then though, Hamilton has calmed down a lot and matured into a more well-rounded driver. The young pilot gained respect from the team by winning the 2008 title and while he suffered a difficult car in 2009, continued to praise the factory workers in Woking. It was a year of character-building, but by most accounts, Hamilton survived and has become a stronger driver for it.
While Lewis was struggling with the under-performing MP4-24, Jenson Button was having the time of his life in the Brawn, winning races, spraying champagne and finally realising his dream of becoming a world champion. Of course, he did just that with a race to spare and took the title from Hamilton before bringing the coveted number one with him to McLaren, almost seemingly just to rub it in, forcing Lewis to carry the number two. There was no ill-will, of course, but when Button was announced as a McLaren pilot, the thought of Hamilton having to unveil a MP4-25 emblazoned with ‘1’ and ‘Jenson Button’ on it must have hurt just a little bit.
Further to this thought, memories of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost flew through the mind, the pair having a bitter rivalry which often resulted in contact on the track. However, in pre-season interviews, Button and Hamilton appeared to be genuinely relaxed around each other and pleased they have been given the opportunity to race in identical machinery.
In Bahrain for the opening round of the season it was Hamilton who took the first conquest, out-qualifying Button by 0.5s. In the race both drivers improved by one position and Hamilton leads Button by nine points. In Australia though, the tables turned slightly and Hamilton suffered a terrible time in qualifying, only managing a lowly eleventh whereas Button hauled his car into fourth, exactly the position Lewis started in for Bahrain. While Hamilton will surely improve tomorrow in the race, Button is probably where the pace of the McLaren is; behind the Red Bulls and Ferrari.
Speaking to the BBC directly after qualifying today, Hamilton was visibly disappointed by failing to get into Q3. This is what he had to say about his Saturday performance.
Today was a surprise – I wasn’t expecting to be out in Q2. I felt I got as much as I could out of the car, but I just couldn’t get the grip from the tyres.
On my first run in Q2, I was held up by traffic, so I wasn’t able to do a quick lap. I pitted early, got a clear lap, but still struggled to find time in the final sector – even with new tyres. I don’t know what the reason for that was.
So I didn’t have a great day, but it’s encouraging to see Jenson doing such a good job. Hopefully, we’ll both have a good race tomorrow. Lewis Hamilton.
Further to this, much has been made of Hamilton’s incident last night, the McLaren pilot being accosted by the local police for spinning out the rear wheels of his Mercedes road car. Lewis insisted this has not affected his performance today although Martin Whitmarsh stated to the BBC that his driver was a little unfocused in the morning practice session.
Hamilton went on to praise his team mate for performing well and pointed out the importance of scoring points for the team.
Clearly Jenson had a great qualifying session, he did a great job, but for me, as always, points are key for the constructors’ championship and for the drivers’.
I will do my utmost to score as many points as I can tomorrow, and tomorrow is going to be a tricky day with the start of the race. Lewis Hamilton.
Button also praised the team and pointed out he pretty much got the best of the MP4-25 today.
After our strong performance yesterday, this morning the car didn’t work as well as we’d expected. We lacked grip, and it looks as though the cars ahead of us here have more downforce.
Nevertheless, qualifying this afternoon was good. I felt pleased with the car on every lap except the final one in Q3. I don’t know whether it was the wind picking up, but I didn’t feel the car was working quite as well as it had in the first two sessions. I didn’t have the balance I’d had previously – there was a lot more understeer in the car – but it only cost me a tenth or two.
So, the best lap we probably could have done was a 1m24.4s – which is still half a second off the pacesetters. We’re not there yet, but this is an improvement because we’re a lot closer to the front than we were in Bahrain.
I’m happy with the performance of the team this weekend. We pretty much got the best out of the package we have at the moment. Jenson Button.
Like with Rosberg and Schumacher, Button suggested he could have gone faster, emphasising his competitiveness in Q1 and Q2 and suggesting the wind may have affected the overall balance of his car. However, the way he spoke to the media after qualifying didn’t seem quite the same as the Mercedes duo. Button is very relaxed at the moment, having won the driver’s title and now working for a team that has bundles of championship-winning experience. While still very competitive, Jenson has learned to take the lows with the highs and to just keep plugging away.
In the other garage, Hamilton has matured but still has a way to go before he can consider himself as mature as his team mate. While Jenson attended the Grand Prix Ball on Friday evening, speaking to the motorsport fraternity and generally garnering praise from all quarters as being the model world champion, Hamilton was explaining himself to a police officer.
The McLaren pair haven’t come to blows, and as with neighbouring Mercedes, it is unlikely they will, the dynamic between Button and Hamilton is just as calm and collected. The only thing that may be separating the two is the fact that Button has put his youthful play-times behind him whereas Hamilton, currently sans-manager, is still in that phase of his life.