The mood at McLaren during the 2010 season, was one of team spirit and camaraderie, at least judging from appearances. Of course, the Woking outfit is well-practiced at maintaining a disciplined corporate front, so whether or not there was as much brotherly love floating around as purported is anyone’s guess. The McLaren brass went out of its way to assure anyone who would listen that newbie Jenson Button was being given nothing but equal treatment by the team, even if Lewis Hamilton’s standard of treatment was equal plus.
At the end of the day, there was little reason for fireworks to erupt between Button and Hamilton, the 2009 and 2008 world champs, respectively, as neither one of them was seriously in contention for the title by season’s end. While it must have galled Hamilton that his new team mate was leading him in the points for a time, Hamilton is a scrappy driver who isn’t averse to plowing through the field on the home stretch.
Now that Button has cut his teeth with the new team, what sort of dynamic will we see between the two drivers in 2011? Former F1 driver, and new lead commentator for the BBC, Martin Brundle, recently offered some observations at the Autosport International Show. Said Brundle of the two McLaren boys, “We haven’t seen them in a head to head. They are quite good mates, but there is no point being that much of a mate with your team-mate, or any other F1 driver for that matter, that you are competing against. So when we see them in an absolute head-to-head I think we might find a different dynamic between the two.”
While it’s not exactly true that we haven’t seen the two drivers dicing for position, what is true is that we haven’t seen it happen when it counted for much, e.g. when a race win or perhaps even the world title was on the line. Think back to the behavior of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber last year. Previously, they’d acted congenially if not generously towards one another, when neither one seemed to be stealing points from the other. That was in 2009, of course; in 2010 it was a different story. The sight of Vettel, having just crashed into Webber, climbing from his car and twirling his index finger at his head, in the universal “crazy-man” gesture, is hard to forget. It certainly wasn’t a symbol of team spirit.
Brundle is predicting we might see more of this in the McLaren camp, should emotions run high in a competitive campaign. While he generally credits Hamilton being the quicker of the two, he also thinks that Button will be a tougher rival in 2011: “Lewis is possibly the faster of the two in absolute raw speed, but Jenson was the man who got 49 laps on a set of tyres in Abu Dhabi that most parked after 11-15 laps. He has a way of finessing the car. I love watching him drive, because he has such an economic way to drive an F1 car, which gives Jenson a problem when the car is moving around because that is not his style. If he sorts out his qualifying he will give Lewis even more of a hard time.”