If you are a McLaren fan, perhaps you were biting your nails to see how the Chinese Grand Prix would end. Both Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were positioned 1,2 in the final laps of the race. Hamilton was closing in on Button as both drivers had lost effective grip in their intermediate tires.
In any other team there may have been a call from the pit wall to hold station and not risk any silly mistakes in allowing the two drivers to race each other but McLaren is different. It seems team boss, and new McLaren Group CEO, Martin Whitmarsh ignored calls for team orders and let them race.
McLaren has always maintained that the team has no team orders. Having this penchant for fair racing and allowing their drivers to race makes McLaren the most vocal about the lack of team orders. One can assume not many teams discuss it as they themselves have team orders but that is the mother of all assumptions and yet ignoring that they exist is the father of naivete.
Sunday’s race was not scripted although Whitmarsh had his own team calling for the drivers to hold station which would allow Button to win. That call was never made and Hamilton was allowed to chase Button down. A chase that never materialized in a pass for a host of reason namely to do with tire degradation for both drivers.
Would the call have been made if it were Hamilton in first and Button chasing him down? Who knows, that’s speculation and according to Whitmarsh, probably not. Both drivers were on markedly different strategies and it seems it was important to Whitmarsh that Hamilton be allowed to fully develop his race strategy.
â€œThere were a number of discussions, and people said to me, â€˜shouldnâ€™t we tell them to stop racing now?â€™â€ said Whitmarsh.
â€œI felt that we couldnâ€™t and we had to let them race. In fairness theyâ€™d run two different strategies and Lewis had to be given the opportunity.
â€œThose things can go horribly wrong, but they didnâ€™t â€“ these two guys have got a tremendous amount of respect for one another and I felt they were going to be sensible.â€
â€œWould it have been more comfortable to have cruised a bit at the end? It would have been, and I would have fewer grey hairs now, but I think it was right [to let them race] and I think it was right for the show,â€ he said.
â€œThat was a race that was exciting from the lights to the flag, and thatâ€™s how it should be.
â€œThatâ€™s how we live in this team â€“ we try to go racing as a team and give both drivers the opportunity.
â€œThe fact is, Jenson very much deserved that win today, and if Lewis had caught and passed him then Lewis would have deserved it.â€
That seems equitable enough if you study the situation and one can not take away the terrific race both drivers put in on a rainy Sunday. As it is, the first notion of diffusing any team order issues so as not to re-create Ferrari’s current media-fueled (but denied) driver row between Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. It also does suggest that Hamilton was the odd man out and Whitmarsh felt it only prudent to let him catch and attempt to pass button.
The “no team orders” order on Sunday was to benefit Hamilton’s strategy in the hopes that he could make it happen at the expense of Button. Well…that’s how the quote reads to me. Is that, in itself, a team order or preferential treatment? Not really but what I think it is is a team that has two different drivers with terrific talent that are stark contrasts to each other. Best to let that sucker play out naturally Martin. Button would appreciate that.
Oh…and Whitmarsh couldn’t help but referring to F1 races as “the show”…how I loathe that term!!! It patronizes the crap out of fans who have been watching F1 for years. Even when it wasn’t “a show”!