Martin Brundle has warned the McLaren-Mercedes hierarchy to expect a 'different dynamic' between world champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in F1 2011 as the latter increasingly finds his feet at the Woking-based outfit – suggesting that the tension of Istanbul last year was merely 'a little taster' of what might be yet to come.
Button arrived at McLaren in 2010 as the reigning world champion, going up against his title-winning predecessor and countryman Hamilton, a driver who to all intents and purposes had made the team his own. Few, in truth, gave the 31-year-old much of a prayer – and yet it was 'JB' who soaked up the early spoils, led the standings first and over the opening half of the season if anything appeared to have the upper hand as his team-mate got all scrappy in his efforts to stay ahead.
Despite that, there was no breakdown in relations as had been widely anticipated – and as, indeed, materialised at arch-rivals Red Bull Racing – as the British pair worked together harmoniously and got on well. However, the Turkish Grand Prix episode – in which Button overtook Hamilton after the latter had been assured by the team that he would not come under attack – hinted at the potential for dissension inside the ranks.
With the former Brawn GP star now fully settled at the team and McLaren having something of an unenviable history of failing to adequately handle two high-profile, fiercely-competitive drivers, popular BBC F1
commentator Brundle forecasts a few more such fireworks over the course of the forthcoming campaign.
“I think Jenson matched Lewis better than many expected,” the 51-year-old – a former McLaren driver himself –stated in an interview during the pre-season Autosport International show. “The two victories he had were tremendous victories – anybody would like those on their CV.
“I think Lewis is possibly the faster of the two in absolute raw speed, but Jenson was the man who got 49 laps out of a set of tyres in Abu Dhabi that most parked after eleven-to-15 laps. He's got a way of finessing a car. I love watching him drive, because he's got such an economical way to drive an F1 car – but that gives Jenson a problem when the car is moving around, because that's not his style. If he fixes qualifying, I think he'll give Lewis even more of a hard time, but Lewis really was pretty much on top by the end of the year.
“We haven't seen them in a head-to-head. They're quite good mates, but there's no point being that much of a mate with your team-mate – or any other F1 driver for that matter that you are competing against. When we see them in an absolute head-to-head, I think we might find a different dynamic between the two. If you look back to the Istanbul race and remember Lewis' face on the podium when Jenson had passed him and he wasn't expecting it, I think that's a little taster of what might happen there.”
Brundle went on to opine that both men will once again be in the thick of the battle for glory in F1 2011 – although they and the rest of the grid will need to go some to successfully dethrone the sport's new youngest-ever world champion Sebastian Vettel, he advises.
“Winning a world championship in consecutive years has proven to be quite difficult in the 60-year history of F1, but (Vettel) has got all the hallmarks, hasn't he, because he's a good qualifier and a good racer,” the Englishman mused. “If you actually analyse 2010, but for some unreliability and a bit of impetuous driving, he could have had that sewn up by September – so it is pretty ominous, I accept that.
“But [there's also] Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg – the list goes on. Mark Webber, I think, will come back stronger than ever, but I think Sebastian Vettel will be harder than ever to beat for Mark.
“If Adrian Newey works his magic again, Vettel could be a very strong contender, but there are so many changes for 2011 – KERS is coming back, the adjustable rear wing and by far the biggest is Pirelli coming into F1. Surely it will take them a little time to get their compounds and constructions right, so I think we could see a very variable set of results in the first few grands prix.”
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