McLaren-Mercedes is fully capable of handling two F1 World Champions next year in the shape of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, insists team principal Martin Whitmarsh – despite the memory of Fernando Alonso's unhappy sojourn at Woking still fresh in the memory.
Back in 2007, the rivalry between double world champion Alonso and then F1 rookie Hamilton developed to such an extent as to become self-destructive – with the nadir coming during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, when the Spaniard's blocking of his British team-mate led to a grid penalty, and a further frosting over in relations between the pair.
The situation culminated in Alonso breaking off his three-year contract with the multiple world champions two years early to return to former employer Renault – and there are fears that a similar scenario could produce itself in 2010, with Button having left the safe, comfortable environment of Brawn GP/Mercedes to enter the lion's den in pitting himself directly against Hamilton, his countryman and title-winning predecessor.
Whilst McLaren does not have the best history of adequately managing two top-line drivers – the bitter Alain Prost/Ayrton Senna partnership two decades ago is another obvious example – Whitmarsh is adamant that there will be no problems with Hamilton and Button, even if he acknowledges that the latter will need to be brought up-to-speed rapidly ahead of the season start in Bahrain in mid-March.
“We've always traditionally involved our drivers in the development of the car,” the Englishman explained in an interview with The Independent
, “and the most important thing we can do in the early days of our relationship is to get Jenson to look at what we do, evaluate it and ask questions and make suggestions.
“One of the most important tasks will be to get Jenson familiarised with our procedures – how we work at McLaren and how we go racing. He'll need to start putting names to faces, of course, but it should all be a very straightforward job for someone of his experience.
“We feel confident that, as an organisation, we'll be able to manage the demands and expectations of our drivers. Lewis and Jenson are both world champions, they know what it takes to win and I'm sure they'll both be very motivated to push each other to deliver even greater results. It's my job to positively harness that competitiveness for the greater benefit of the team.
“It's a proposition that some teams might find troubling, but which we are absolutely relishing – it's a very nice problem to have! We have two fiercely competitive individuals who both fully understand the benefit of teamwork – they are phenomenal team players. 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. Other than that, they're free to race.”