The Pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button Has Worked Well On and Off the Track for McLaren
McLaren’s Dynamic Duo went hunting recently. The quarry: Formula One journalists.
In a PR event leading up to the British Grand Prix, the McLaren team invited some British F1 reporters to a paintball battle with its drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
Both drivers got shot, but they had a great time.
“I should do it more often,” Hamilton tells Reuters. “I really should do more stuff like this with friends. I am trying to put things in place where I have more time to rest and relax and do things like this. I’m 25 and before I know it I’ll be 30 and time is just going to blow past so I really, really want to enjoy it. I’m enjoying the racing more than ever, and I want to enjoy doing other things.”
Staged PR events are part of a F1 driver’s job. What can’t be staged, however, is the effervescent dynamics of the “good mates” relationship between Hamilton and Button. They get along extremely well off the track. On the track, both are at the peak of their driving talents. They are McLaren’s Dynamic Duo.
And in the ever improving Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-25, they have a team and a car to match their energy and synergy.
“You just can’t believe how hungry this team is,” Button enthused.
Hamilton has got along with all his teammates, although the relationship with Fernando Alonso got quite prickly at times. But Hamilton and Button seemed to have gelled particularly quickly. PRN asked him why.
“I don’t know,” Hamilton replies. “Jenson is in a place in his life where he has just reached a huge milestone in his life – he has just won the world championship, and I am sure that it that experience itself he has grown a lot.
“I have experienced the same kind of transition. Once you get there you have even more appreciation for life and things. We both have that same feeling, and so much in common. We understand each other’s feelings and what position we are in, and we have a huge amount of respect for each other.”
“I had the same thing with Heikki,” Hamilton adds, referring to the amiable Heikki Kovalainen who was his McLaren teammate in 2008 and 2009. “But Jenson is a lot happier because he is doing really well. The only problem with Heikki was that he was not getting the results, so that was the only part that was missing for him. But otherwise the feeling was still virtually the same.”
Hamilton and Button are out to win, of course, but if Jenson beats Lewis, or vice versa, the loser doesn’t have a throw-the-toys-out-of-the-pram tantrum.
“If he does a better job than me,” Hamilton said, “he does a better job than me.”
The paintball shootout was actually Hamilton’s idea.
“I’ve known Jenson for a very long time,” Hamilton says, “and I’ve really got to know him well over the past six months. We’ve been working hard, we’ve spent a lot of time together, at the circuit and at events arranged by Vodafone and our other partners – it’s funny, but I think that, because we’ve spent a lot of downtime together during filming days or appearances, that we’ve actually got to know each other better than if, say, we’d only been working together at the track. He brings a lot of positive energy to the race weekends, and he’s made our team stronger, so these are all positives.”
Make no mistake about it. This is Hamilton’s team that Button has joined.
That was the opinion of many a seasoned F1 observer back in January of this year when Button signed on for a team that Hamilton had been part of since 1998. It’s now past the midseason point, and it’s no longer just Lewis’ team because Jenson feels very much at home. Button has walked into the lions’ den unscathed.
“Yeah, I am,” he answered. “I am a little bit surprised. You never really know what to expect coming to a new team. But I felt that very early in the season I got to grips with working with new engineers, new mechanics, new people at that factory. A lot of that was because they welcomed me more than I expected, so that was nice to feel that when I got to the first race that I felt comfortable with the team.”
“There were still some things with the car that I had to make sure were a bit more my own, because I arrived very late in this team. The first time I sat in the car was in January. I feel very comfortable in the car. There are always bits that I am asking to be changed at every race. The great thing is that they are able to change them; they are very quick, very on it. And that’s exactly what I need to the position I am in the moment.”
How important was Button’s early season win in Australia in helping him and the team to settle in together?
“Very important for me within the team,” he said. “The victory was due to having good speed and also making the right calls. Having the confidence to make the right calls is something that comes with experience, and confidence in your abilities, so it was important.”
Relaxed, Not Neurotic
Ron Dennis was [and is] a brilliant owner and manager of the McLaren team. Dennis took a team that was in tatters in the early 1980s and turned it into the second most successful and second longest surviving F1 team after Ferrari. Because of Dennis, McLaren won a multitude of drivers’ and constructors’ championships and a plethora of races.
In January 2009 Dennis handed over the team principal role to his longtime lieutenant Martin Whitmarsh. The latter also helped steer McLaren to its triumphs, but Dennis was in the limelight. In many ways their management style is the same. Former FIA president Max Mosley used to take veiled digs at a certain team boss and his clone.
Here’s a good example: on the Saturday afternoon of each grand prix weekend McLaren holds its “Meet the Team” where the boss and the drivers answer questions from the F1 media. Generally the threesome sits on high barstools at one end of a room in McLaren’s hospitality center. At a recent race, Hamilton arrived first for the interview session. He steered clear of the high uncomfortable stools and plopped down in a beanbag chair. Whitmarsh arrived next, saw Lewis, and sat down in another beanbag chair. A surprised Button was next, and he too sat in one of the low chairs. The three conducted the interview in comfort.
You could never, ever, imagine the straitlaced Dennis doing such a thing. That’s not a slight against Dennis, but it does show how the team is more relaxed and less neurotic under Whitmarsh. And Button and Hamilton have perfectly laid back and friendly personalities to fit into this environment.
How Close They Are
Many F1 observers thought that Hamilton would easily outpace Button in equal equipment, but Lewis has not blown Jenson away.
Team principal Whitmarsh points to the Canadian Grand Prix, where Hamilton and Button finished first and second, as an example of how closely matched the McLaren duo are.
“Lewis was superb in Canada and always has been superb there,” Whitmarsh says.
“They were both racing very hard to the end of the race, and they were three seconds apart. So that is how close they are. Jenson also demonstrated that he can overtake as well. They wrung everything they could out of those tires and did an excellent job.”
The new rules this year with no refueling played in Button’s favour. His silky smooth driving style is perfect for conserving the car on long runs with heavy fuel loads.
Button won twice in the first four races while Hamilton’s first victory of the season didn’t come until round seven in Turkey. But, since that win, however, the momentum swung towards Hamilton who finished one place ahead of Button in five straight races.
The only glitch in their relationship so far was the communications breakdown in Turkey where Hamilton believed that Button would hold station behind him. So he was surprised when Button passed him.
The McLaren duo will duel again, but they plan to keep it clean.
“It’s inevitable that we’ll be battling again on the track sooner or later,” Hamilton acknowledges. “Of course, we’ll both work hard to make it’s fair, but our eyes are open to the fact that it will happen again – and, actually, I think that’ll be cool, because he’s
a good guy to race with.”
So, as the second half of the season goes on, McLaren’s Dynamic Duo is flying high. Button has silenced his critics with his on track performances, and he feels at home with McLaren. He and Hamilton are the best of mates. McLaren is on a constant upward development curve with its car.
What lies ahead in the second half of the season? How many more wins will they rack up? Will one start to consistently outperform the other? Will the peace and harmony continue? Or will something boil over as they continue to fight at the front? It’s going fascinating to watch it all unfold.