x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Whitmarsh praises his dynamic duo

The McLaren team principal allows both his drivers a free rein in China and it pays off with a one-two finish.

Lewis Hamilton, left, and Jenson Button share a joke after the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai yesterday.
Lewis Hamilton, left, and Jenson Button share a joke after the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai yesterday.

Up on the pit counter, a member of the McLaren crew turned to Martin Whitmarsh, the team principal, and pointed out that the Chinese Grand Prix had just reached the halfway stage. "I couldn't believe it," Whitmarsh said. "It had been a stunning spectacle from the start and I had no idea we still had to go through the same thing all over again ?"

Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton might have swept to a comfortable one-two for McLaren-Mercedes - a result that puts the team ahead in both Formula One world championships - but from Whitmarsh's privileged perch it was not always comfortable viewing, a consequence of the changeable conditions and his decision to allow both drivers free rein. There is a ban on anything prejudicial to Formula One's best interests - blatant team orders, for instance - but there is a tacit understanding that subtle race management is sometimes employed for a team's greater good. No such tactics were used yesterday.

"Both our guys pushed very hard all the way to the end," Whitmarsh said. "In the closing stages they were on worn tyres but still lapping more quickly than anybody else, which increased the tension. Jenson and Lewis drove fantastically in their own different styles: Jenson really thought things through and fully deserved his win, but the same would have been true had Lewis been able to find a way through.

"I don't know how many passing manoeuvres he has pulled off this year - it was about 20 prior to this weekend and it must be 30 now." Whitmarsh admitted there were discussions about asking the drivers to ease up for the sake of consolidation, but he ruled that out. "I felt we couldn't do it," he said. "They ran different strategies and Lewis had to be given the opportunity to compete. "Things can sometimes go horribly wrong when you take such decisions, but they are both very sensible and have tremendous respect for each other.

"Would it have been more comfortable if we'd told them to cruise at the end? Yes, it would and I'd have fewer grey hairs. But it was right to let them race for the sake of the show." Some felt Button would be put in the shade by Hamilton this year, but he has scored both the team's victories to date and out-qualified his teammate three to one. The race yesterday showcased their contrasting but similarly effective approaches - Hamilton the savvy street-fighter, Button the consummate stylist whose neat approach belies his deceptive speed - and Whitmarsh spoke warmly about his new recruit's contribution.

"Jenson has done a fantastic job," he said, "He has endured some tough times during his career and has clearly learned from them. His wins this year have come on days when drivers could make a difference - and clearly he has made a difference." sports@thenational.ae