McLaren has confirmed that there will be no team orders at this weekend's inaugural Korean Grand Prix, despite Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button falling 28 and 31 points off the championship lead respectively.
With the revised scoring system introduced this season, both drivers retain a shot at the title, and principal race engineer Philip Prew told the media that there would be no favouritism shown at this point in the season. The Korean race provides an unknown for all teams, with the circuit having only received its final tarmac layer, and all-important FIA approval, a matter of two weeks ago, and McLaren is optimistic that its latest developments will bring both Button and Hamilton back into the fight with Red Bull and Ferrari [see story here
"I think, [given] where we are at the moment in terms of chasing other people, we need strong results from both
drivers and we have to attack with both
drivers," Prew reasoned, "If we can get both of them to challenge for the title and overtake the Red Bulls then maybe that's another problem but, at this stage of the game, both drivers need to be taking points off our immediate opposition and the only way to do that is to let them drive their own race as much as they can.
"It's always difficult as you close in on the end of the season. I personally have been in the position, in 2007, where we gave away an awful lot of points in two races - effectively 42 points with Lewis - to lose the championship. Defending a lead does give you added pressure and possibly forces you, or leads you, to change your approach slightly. [Red Bull] have a different problem to us, [and] I don't know whether it will trip them up. They have their own policies and it appears from the outside that both drivers are having an equal opportunity.
"For McLaren, at the moment, it's a very clear objective - we've got to be winning races, we've got to have strong performances from both drivers and then we'll see how it pans out over the next three races."
Despite the disappointment of Japan, where the latest developments to the MP4-25 did not get enough track time to be properly evaluated, leaving Button and Hamilton to revert to the previous specification and give vain chase to Red Bull and Ferrari, Prew insists that motivation is not a problem in the Woking camp.
"I feel we've under-delivered on points in the last couple of races, which is a frustration to the drivers and the team - but they know that the car has the pace and the potential to be competing, and finishing higher up than we've achieved recently," he explained, "They both want to win races and they both want to win this championship and, to do that, we have to be winning. It's at a stage now where a win is what's required and that's what we're gunning for. We have continual upgrades to the car, which helps to motivate everybody. They're plenty motivated at the moment."
Despite being the most distant of outsiders in the title race, Prew believes that Korea could be just the sort of venue to benefit Button's willingness to deviate from 'normal' strategy, and maybe benefit from the sort of tactical call that served him so well in the early, wet-weather, races in Australia and China.
"All of the decisions are based on the performance that he feels is in the car and how he can best exploit the performance - they are aimed at getting best performance," the engineer noted, "His driving style is slightly different from Lewis', and his decisions are in line with those differences, I think. I don't think it's deliberately going out of the way, it's more about being prepared to take some risks if that's necessary. It's really ultimately going for the best lap time and, if that's different to other people, then we're prepared to take those.
"Potentially [there is room to gamble this weekend], and I think some of that will come as we see the track evolve, if grip is a big issue. An example may be if the track grip is poor, then the higher downforce solution may work. But, if somebody who's a little bit brave, they may choose to take a lower downforce level, expecting the grip level to improve through the race, and then they might be in a strong position in the race to have overtaking opportunities, etc.
"So there could be some opportunities to try slightly different routes, but we need to gauge the conditions and what opportunities there are, and then try and do the best thing."