Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have always struck me as particularly grown up for their age, but being under endless media scrutiny in their role as McLaren team-mates in 2010 will surely be even more stressful than the rough and tumble of their battles out on the circuit.
Despite this, I genuinely believe that they will drive each other through their formidable sense of competitiveness and a shrewd understanding that each can learn from the other.
At the launch of the new MP4-25 today (Friday) it was good to hear team principal Martin Whitmarsh reiterate that both drivers will be “let off the leash” to race as hard as they like – implying that he will be trusting implicitly in their good judgement not to get so embroiled in trying to beat each other that the successful development of the car is somehow compromised.
McLaren know everything there is to know about the complexity of team orders and the divisive effect they can have on a team. And they’d be the first to admit that there have been occasions when they have spiralled out of control.
In 1989 Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost cut a private agreement that whoever led into the first corner of the San Marino GP at Imola would be allowed to win the race. Senna got the best start and overtook the Frenchman on the straight before Tosa. He claimed that was a legitimate move under the terms of their deal as they had not reached the braking area by the time he went past. Needless to say Prost did not agree and the ensuing enmity between the drivers meant that they felt a simmering mood of mutual discontent from that moment onwards
Managing this antipathy was increadibly wearing for the team from that point onwards. Similarly, in 1997, David Coulthard had to bite his tongue hard when he was instructed to hand victory in the European GP at Jerez to team-mate Mika Hakkinen. You could almost see the point from the touchlines, given that Mika was long overdue his first win, but it must have looked very different from DC’s perspective. When he had to do the same in Melbourne the following year, the Scot was left wondering, briefly, what the hell was going on.
I think McLaren know how to manage these things much better nowadays. That’s not to say there won’t be the odd wheel banging episode between Lewis and Jenson. They might even end up together in a gravel trap. Hell, at the end of the day, you want to beat your team-mate more than anybody else on the grid. Should be dynamite!