The deal is done and the British dream team of McLaren, Hamilton and Button. The engines may be supplied by Mercedes, but they are built in the Northampton and that almost counts.
Last time two A-list drivers were together at McLaren things did not go well with Alonso leaving after one year of his three year contract. Looking back a little further and the team was in a similar position when Alain Prost was at the top of his game was joined by Ayrton Senna in the late 80′s.
It was a pairing that won 15 out of 16 races (and 199 points in the constructors championship) in perhaps the most dominant season long performance by a single team, the only reason they did not make it a clean sweep was Jean-Louis Schlesser tripping up Senna at the first chicane at Monza when the race was clearly in the bag.
These were two drivers using every trick to get one up over each other. Their already strained relationship disintegrated completely in 1989. Prost accused Senna of driving dangerously and that McLaren clearly favoured Senna towards the end of the year. Prost won the drivers title under very controversial circumstances.
It was only shortly before Ayrton died that they reconciled, I think both understood that it took another great driver challenging them to really raise their game.
A team-mate is the only person with the same car, engine and support as you. No one wants to get beaten by someone with identical equipment, especially in the ego driven/sports psychology led world of F1.
Maybe the best example of how it could go wrong was Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet at Williams, again in the late 80′s. Nelson was truly awesome at mind games; he’d talk off record to the press about new differentials or other trinkets that were helping his performance. Some of these parts were vapourware and never existed, but Nigel heard the rumours and believed that the Sir Frank and Patrick Head were giving Nelson preferential treatment.
The battle was intense and they both lost the ’86 world title to Alain Prost despite having the best cars on the grid. In ’87 it’s arguable the Piquet was not as fast as Nigel, but the mind games got the better of Mansell and despite more wins for the British driver, Nelson won the championship.
Prost in 1986 was a perfect example of the difference between winning a title and not loosing it. Alain steadily racked up points while the Williams drivers went for wins, beating each other and pushing a superior car too hard at times.
There is lots of history to show it’s very difficult for two top drivers to coexist in a team with out friction or favouritism (perceived or real) being shown.
McLaren clearly knows how to run two completive cars and work together as a team that is focused on winning championships. The question can the two drivers keep the team unified and working together instead of (as history has shown) splitting the team.
I think Nigel Whitmarsh is strong enough and has the authority to make it happen, but it’s also going to need Lewis’s people getting on with Jenson’s people and the drivers staying above the politics and rumour mongering.
Team boss Nigel Whitmarsh has addressed this recently and said:
“I think we’re very lucky in that, with Jenson and Lewis, we have two fiercely competitive individuals who both fully understand the benefit of teamwork.”
“They’re both phenomenal team players. And my job is to manage that racer’s instinct. They are there to race each other – and the only instruction they’ll receive from me is to respect each other on the track. But that’s it – other than that, they’re free to race.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve looked forward to an F1 season like this, it’s got to potential to be a great one and I think the relationship between the two McLaren drivers is going to be critical to the teams success.