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GP Week : Issue 148
But even if the team continues to get it right with the car, the biggest threat to McLaren’s success this season comes from within. One of McLaren’s great strengths as a team is also a potential weakness. By refusing to nominate a number one driver and allowing Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button to fight it out on track, McLaren risk recreating the 2007 season in which both Hamilton and then-teammate Fernando Alonso lost out on the drivers’ title by a single point. Two strong drivers both in contention for the championship risk taking points off each other in a way that a team willing to enforce team orders does not need to worry about. References to McLaren in 2007 bring to mind the poisonous atmosphere found in the team garage that season, but there is no suggestion that relations between Button and Hamilton are anything other than amicable. The two men have a long history dating back to the younger man’s karting career, and they share a deep mutual respect for each other’s talent. Fierce competitors on track they may be, but there are no behind-the-scenes demands for special treatment from either man. Both Hamilton and Button prefer to let their results speak for themselves. But even if emotional sparks aren’t flying, there is always the risk that two cars which spend a lot of time running together can take each other out, especially if the drivers are allowed to fight each other for victory. Red Bull suffered a dreadful result at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, when Sebastian Vettel retired following a collision with Mark Webber when the two were running in the lead. A few laps later, when the McLaren pair were leading the race, a collision was narrowly avoided as Button passed Hamilton for the lead. The Woking team could easily have suffered a similar fate to their rivals from Milton Keynes. It’s a risk you run when you allow your drivers to race, and – from the looks of the qualifying results we’ve seen thus far – it’s a risk McLaren will be running rather often this season. There were points during the opening stages of this year’s Malaysian Grand Prix, when visibility was at its lowest, where Button was riding too close for comfort on his team-mate’s tail, leading to worried faces on the pitwall. And when the 2009 world champion collided with Narain Karthikeyan in the same race, Hamilton was so close behind that he had to take evasive action to avoid being caught up in the incident. But even if the drivers are able to avoid each other on track, a championship can still be lost with two world champions in a very strong car. Formula One moves too quickly for advantages to last for long. While Red Bull are on the back foot at the moment, they will be putting all of their resources into improving their car with a view to winning both championships for the third year running. And with three days of in-season testing before the Spanish Grand Prix, updates for the European leg of the season will be well-developed by the time the F1 circus arrives at the Circuit de Catalunya. Any advantage McLaren have at the moment must be maximised less it prove itself to be only temporary. Because the MP4-27 is not a dominant car in the manner of the RB7, and nor is it perfect. While the McLaren drivers have not experienced the struggles of Mercedes team-mates Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, tyre degradation – especially on the rears – is still an issue. The car is no Sauber where rubber is concerned, and there’s always room for improvement. During the Sepang race, Button complained of his inability to warm up the tyres in the wet, blaming his crash with Karthikeyan on his difficulty with the Pirellis. The wet conditions were certainly a factor – McLaren were said to have gambled on a dry race when it came to their Malaysian Grand Prix set-up – but any difficulties with handling in the wet need to be resolved before the circus hits traditionally rainy tracks such as Silverstone, Hockenheim, or Spa. There’s a long season of racing ahead, and while McLaren are on top at the moment, they will have to fight to stay there. That’s what Formula One is all about. 28 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> FEATURE