Unlike Ferrari, McLaren had the raw pace to take pole positions last year. This year, they have kept their development rate impressively high, so much so that, since Turkey, the team have looked unstoppable. Red Bull’s early falters have granted McLaren the lead in both championships, but can they hang on?
Unless Red Bull can sort themselves out, it seems to be a battle between Button and Hamilton
On the face of it, it certainly appears so. Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are probably the best line-up of drivers on the grid, despite their different driving styles. Button’s wins in Australia and China were both thanks to excellent tyre management and strategy, while Hamilton’s faster raw pace gave him the advantage in Turkey and Canada, despite being much harder on the tyres.
The team itself has provided a car that is now well capable of matching or beating the Red Bull, and with their F-duct device still working the best, no other car can touch them on the straights. The reliability of the car is also perfect, the only retirement so far this year was when an engineer left an engine cover on Button’s car in Monaco, causing the car to overheat.
Fantastically consistent finishes have also been McLaren’s specialty this year, with ever single race finish being in the points so far this year (except Hamilton in Spain, who retired 2 laps from the end, so he was therefore classified). In fact, the worst finish by a McLaren driver so far has been 8th place, which happened only once.
However, main rivals Red Bull have also had every race finish in the points, although they have had 1 more retirement. With this, we can conclude that both teams have extremely reliable cars, with drivers who are unlikely to crash (Turkey excluded).
Therefore, the only difference between the two teams is their drivers. Red Bull have been rocked by rumours of favouring Sebastian Vettel over Mark Webber, and this could well cost them dearly in the championship battle if their drivers fall out, like Alonso and Hamilton did in 2007.
While McLaren have also had their moments, they have dealt with it much more efficiently. Take Turkey, for example, with the radio discussion between Lewis Hamilton and his engineer, regarding Button overtaking him. While there was confusion and rumours after the race, Martin Whitmarsh quickly cleared things up, and the drivers were only confused with each other rather than annoyed. Compare this to Red Bull, who spent the days after Turkey blaming Webber for no evidential reason, then doing a u-turn and saying both drivers were at fault, and claiming that both drivers had forgiven each other about it.
It took a massive 3 races for both drivers to “forgive each other” again for a different incident. On the other hand, before the British Grand Prix, people were speculating that Button and Hamilton would fall out at Silverstone, and would hand the advantage to Red Bull. No such thing happened, and they performed above the car’s potential to get 2nd and 4th.
This is the sort of thing that could well win McLaren the championship. Lewis Hamilton has claimed that McLaren are “over-performing” with their current package, and later implied that another upgrade to the car was coming soon. If this new package can deliver performance equal to the Red Bull car, then the championship will be in both Button’s and Hamilton’s hands. It’s just a matter of which driver can take the opportunity, and at the moment, it’s too close to call yet.