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Is Jenson Button a Natural Number Two?

Jenson Button - is he destined to be Hammy's number two?

Clearly, one of the most valuable assests in McLaren’s treasury at the moment is one Lewis Hamilton.  Not to say that Jenson Button isn’t quite the coin of the realm, but it’s obvious, not withstandng the many stout denials coming from Woking, that Button is the marquee driver there.  He’s generally the quicker of the two drivers, he’s more of a pure racer (he’s regarded by many as the best overteker on rthe grid), and for that he was paid nearly twice the salary as Button during 2010 (16 million euros compared to nine million).

If Jenson Button has a flaw, it might be that he’s a perfect number two.  He’s quick enough to push the number one, and win races on his own, when called upon, but not quite good enough to pose a threat to the number one’s title chances.

While he and Rubens Barrichello were paired at Honda/Brawn, he generally had the edge over the Brazilian, but not by a huge margin. It was a case of a two number twos congenially vying for number one position.  One suspects that Ross Brawn saw this as his dilemma as he moved the team forward from also-ran to title-winner.  Were the drivers as good as the car?  Last year, of course, that situation was reversed, with the drivers probably being better than the sluggish Merc W01. And then, with a Mercedes buyout on the horizon, Brits and Brazilians didn’t fit the game plan, and the rest is part of driver history.

Button, of course, found what might be an ideal home, as a Briton driving for the premier British team.  He said he was seduced by the idwea of joining McLaren when he first visited their factory (formerly called, immodestly, Paragon, and later redubbed the McLaren Technology Centre).  One can imagine the look on his face as he walked through the car museum on site, met some of the engineers, toured the facilities.  Such history!  If you couldn’t be Jim Clark or Graham Hill winning the title for Lotus, then being a Brit and taking the championship for McLaren would be the next best thing.

Many thought that Button would be destroyed by Hamilton, and that never happened.  In fact, he showed a canny ability, on at least a couple of occasions, of letting the race come his way, during inclement weather and safety car conditions, eventually stealing the wins.  Hamilton is a balls-out racer who isn’t known for pacing himself or preserving his tires.  Button is his spectral opposite: Mr. Smooth, who treats his tires as though they had nerve endings.  If Hamilton is the master of late braking, then Button is the master of late pit stops, and healthy tires.  Take note, this might be a critical skill in 2011, with the new Pirelli rubber, which are said to have a life span of a lap and a half.

People have suggested that fireworks will erupt at the team if Hamailton abnd Button are actually locked in a heated duel for the title.  It never really materialized last year, although both drivers were mathematically in contention for top honors for most of the season.  Frankly, I don’t think this will happen gooing forwared, either.  For one thing, the new McLaren doesn’t look like a world-beater this year.  For another, I don’t think it’s in Button’s nature to morph into a petulant diva, and pull Alonso-like stunts, such as pit-box blocking and blackmail.

But what about Hammy?  He has a champion’s ego, and is probably more inclined to flex his diva muscles than Button is.  But this, too, argues for harmony within the team.  Many teams exist quite well with one diva on board.  In fact, it’s probably a benefit to have at least one, as divas are natural attention-getters, a trait which helps  focus the energies of the team.  One diva, a good thing; two, not so good (think Button and Barrichello, or Massa and the Kimster); two divas, a disaster (think Senna and Prost, or Hamilton and Alonso).

Even if both McLaren drivers were to become involved in a mano-a-mano combat the season, I expect that Button would play the nice guy, with Hammy preening in full diva regalia, and probably taking more wins.  Nice guys don’t necessarily finish last; but they might well be number two.

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