With the news that world champion Jenson Button is leaving Brawn GP (now Mercedes Grand Prix) and has signed a multi-year deal with McLaren, are we looking at another disastrous driver pairing at the team?
The omens aren’t exactly good. Lewis Hamilton said recently that he wanted the other driver at McLaren to be a good team player—which is usually driver-speak for “being slower than I am” and “not whining when I get all the new development pieces.” It’s unlikely that Button, who is also a world champion, is going to sit back and allow Hamilton to be the golden boy in the team, even if his salary isn’t as high.
McLaren has a history of running equal number-one drivers, and the results have occasionally been fractious. There was the infamous war between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna when the two were “teammates” in 1988 and 1989 as well as the bust-up between Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in 2007. Unlike the spats between Hamilton and Alonso, which became very nationalistic, any friction will be played out through the pages of the British press, particularly the famously inflammatory daily newspapers.
It will be interesting to see how Button copes with the outright pace of his younger teammate, although I have a feeling that the ban on refueling in 2010 will help him: Button is super-smooth and likes a car that understeers, whereas Hamilton favors a car that’s more tail happy. Cars will be running heavier next year and will likely run longer stints on a set of Bridgestones, so tire management becomes more important. And that favors drivers who are smooth and have lots of experience.
The most amusing aspect of the deal, though, is that it brings two of F1’s most visible driver-Dads into the same garage. John Button is a well-known bon vivant and good bloke who stays out of the way, whereas Anthony Hamilton is omnipresent in the McLaren garage and, we’ve heard, not the easiest person to deal with. Ironically, Hamilton Senior used to buy engines from Button Senior while running Lewis in go-karts.
On another note, if Mercedes GP ends up with an all-German driver pairing of Nico Rosberg and Nick Heidfeld, it would seem they’ve lost out: Rosberg is quick and smart but has yet to win anything and Heidfeld is a solid number two. By contrast, McLaren has two of the quickest drivers in F1—and both know what it takes to win a championship. In the meantime, one of the best and fastest drivers in F1, Kimi Räikkönen, has announced he will be taking a sabbatical. Hopefully, he’ll be back in 2011.
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