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McLaren: Two sides of a victory

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McLaren: Two sides of a victory
Mar 29, 2010, 12:54 AM

I'm very interested in the response of McLaren and its two drivers to the events in Australia.

I'm very interested in the response of McLaren and its two drivers to the events in Australia. Jenson Button won the race with a performance of measured perfection and instinctive tactical brilliance, while Lewis Hamilton lit up Albert Park with his audacious passing, but ended up looking diminished in comparison with Button, less in control of his destiny, less mature.

That isn't so surprising; Button is 30 years old and ten years into his F1 career, whereas Hamilton is 25 and only three years in. Perhaps because he won the title so early in his career and has been a front runner since day one, we forget that he still isn't the complete package.

But today the difference between them was highlighted in several ways. Button instinctively knew that lap 6 was the right moment to gamble on a switch to dry tyres. His first sector made him and us wonder whether it was the right choice, but he was soon up to speed and from then on there was no doubt.

When everyone dived in for tyres, he moved up to second place behind Vettel and was well placed to take the lead when the Red Bull car failed again. From there he measured the gap to the opposition, trimming the car using the front wing adjuster and showing the same ability to nurse a set of tyres he showed in Monaco last year, the cornerstone of that victory.

The confidence that Button now has since winning the world title is there for all to see. It's in the way he walks through the paddock, conducts interviews, greets people. He's achieved his goal, he is loving life as an F1 driver and whatever happens from now on is a bonus. Fear of failure is no longer part of his game and that is a mighty powerful weapon.

His mechanics love him already. He comes in and thanks them for their work at the end of every day and they appreciate his honesty on the days when he doesn't get it right.

If Button is about swagger, mixed with savvy and subtlety, Hamilton is all about the warrior spirit, but the fear of failure is still there. He was aggressive from the outset and pulled off some stunning moves. He was never going to beat Button because he didn't take the early tyre gamble but a podium was there for the taking.

But unlike Button he wasn't leading from the cockpit, he was still dependent on his engineers to tell him what to do on tyres and they felt that he would benefit from a second set of dry tyres, expecting the cars around him like the Ferraris and Kubica to do likewise. But as Fernando Alonso said, the simulations in no way recommended sacrificing track position for a second or two per lap of speed advantage. Track position is king.

McLaren's decision was partly informed by the belief that Hamilton would struggle to make it to the finish on a single set of tyres, unlike Button.

Realising the decision had been wrong he criticised the team in a radio transmission which was heard by the world, which showed a lack of composure.

"All I know is the guys do, always, a fantastic job, but the strategy was not right," he said after the race. "Everyone else in front of me did one stop and for some reason I did two."

It's the "for some reason" part of that sentence which rings hollow in comparison with Button's decisiveness.

It reminded me of China 2007, where Hamilton lost the world championship by staying out too long on a set of tyres that everyone could see were destroyed. He slid off into the gravel trap on his belated way into the pits.

On that occasion he was led by the team, which was trying to win the title that day, rather than take a safe podium that was there for the taking and which would leave him with a simple tap-in at the final race. That was McLaren hubris at its most extreme.

Yesterday Hamilton showed he is still dependent on them for decisions, but unfortunately for him, Button showed what leadership from the cockpit is all about and the contrast is painful for Hamilton. He will be stinging.

It comes at a time when he is coming out of the protective cuccoon of his father Anthony, facing the world as his own man. The lesson of Melbourne is that as a driver he clearly has some life skills to learn.

He has exceptional skill behind the wheel, of the kind which could make him one of the greats, but until he can add that extra dimension of leadership and racing intelligence from the cockpit he will not be the complete package.

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Series Formula 1
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