McLaren back driver battle

McLaren back driver battle

Duo go head-to-head for championship glory

McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale concedes the entire team ages when Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button fight on track, but it is the only way to race in Formula One.

McLaren’s long-held belief that their drivers share equal billing was borne out when Hamilton and Button were embroiled in a thrilling duel in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

After bumping wheels in scrapping for track position through the first few corners, the British pair then duked it out on lap 52 in particular.

Button initially attacked Hamilton down the pit straight, the pair going wheel to wheel around turn one before the latter retaliated to regain the lead two corners later.

It was thrilling stuff, and in stark contrast to the team orders we have witnessed employed by Ferrari, and most recently Red Bull in the British Grand Prix when Mark Webber was told to hold position behind Sebastian Vettel.

“When you’ve two drivers who are side by side, swapping positions I think for all of us it’s ageing,” Neale said.

“But there is no attempt by us to interfere. Martin (Whitmarsh, team principal) has made that clear in the past.

“Lewis and Jenson are experienced drivers, and we run two number one drivers because it gets the best out of them.

“If we’re doing our job well as a team then they are going to come across each other on the circuit, and we expect them to sort it out.”

Nature of the beast

Neale admits it does not always work out, as occurred in Canada last month when Hamilton crashed out after hitting Button as he attempted a pass in wet conditions.

In defence, Neale added: “Letting them race is great for Formula One, and it’s great for sport as a whole.

“We’ve not changed, and that goes back 10 years plus. That was Ron’s way (referring to former team principal Ron Dennis), and that is definitely Martin’s way.

“There is no doubt in my mind both of our drivers are at the top of their game and performing at the level they are at in part because of the pressure each is putting on the other, which is great.”

Neale believes McLaren owe it to the fans to let them see who is the best of their drivers, rather than falsely dictating matters.

Mindful of avoiding being critical of their rivals, Neale added: “I don’t want to comment on how the others run their teams. They do it a different way.

“As far as McLaren are concerned, we recognise it is a sport and a show, and of course whilst we work hard at the technology, we must always remember the fans.

“Those who follow McLaren and Formula One expect us to have great drivers out there doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which is shooting it out.

“As I’ve said, though, it just makes us a bit older on the pit wall.”