In the words of Bob Dylan: ‘times they are a changin’ at McLaren. The team have lost their prodigal son in Lewis Hamilton, their Technical Director (Paddy Lowe) has gone off to a rival team, the fight is on to get to grips with the all-new MP4-28, and team & fans alike are struggling to cope with the ever-changing state of Jenson Button’s facial hair. At the very heart of all these turbulent-factors is of course, the arrival of an ever-impressive Sergio Perez.
Can the Mexican really go burrito-to-toe with Button?
Perez arrives at McLaren on the back of Hamilton’s leap to Mercedes, and while it would be unfair to make a direct comparison between Lewis and Sergio it goes without saying that the latter has earned the seat on merit. With a trio of podium finishes in 2012 on his way to tenth in the standings, it was only really matter of time before ‘Checo’ found himself holding a pen hovering over a lucrative contract for one of the sports juggernauts, such as McLaren. Snatched from the Ferrari Driver Academy, the Woking-based team may well have stolen a significant march on their Italian counterparts.
So 2013 sees Checo and Jenson sitting in the MP4-28 (no, not on each other’s knee), which in itself brings about its advantages for McLaren in terms of development. With both drivers being infamously ‘smooth’ behind the wheel, one is led to believe that driver-suggested improvements to the car should see at least some crossover, perhaps more so as the season gains momentum and understanding of this seasons Pirelli rubber improves.
During the Hamilton/McLaren-era, Hamilton’s aggressive driving-style collided with that of Button’s, and whichever way you look at it that’s an unwanted headache for the boffins within the McLaren. However, should such understanding prove fruitful between Perez and Button, we could be very likely to see a well-rounded tyre-friendly McLaren-Mercedes passing the pit lane more often than its rivals.
Working together is all very well, but let’s not forget Perez and Button’s job-title of ‘race driver’; and good ones at that. Button brags a World Championship, 15 race wins, 8 pole positions and the lovely figure of 999 career championship points. The Brit also brings twelve seasons of F1 experience, compared to Perez’s two. Following Hamilton’s departure, Button now holds the unofficial position of ‘lead driver’ within the squad. And let’s not forget, last time this was the case for JB, he went on to win the title with Brawn GP in 2009.
Perez himself brings to the table a strong argument of course, having picked up no-end of plaudits over the past two seasons, and in doing so demonstrating that he is more than a lucky gentleman paying his way through the motorsport ranks. Calm, controlled and often philosophical approaches to races, much like Button’s own approach, have often lead many to forget that Checo is an F1 competitor of just 37 starts, with a wise head on young shoulders.
One of the only kinks in the Mexican’s armour came in last season’s Malaysian Grand Prix, when a win was surely on the cards if not for a small mistake two laps from the flag chasing Fernando Alonso. Considering that second-placed finish though – I think we can forgive him for that!
This season marks a new dawn for McLaren, a golden opportunity for Button, and a solid platform for Perez to shine. Should premature pre-season testing-woes, as are the case with every team, be overcome sooner rather than later, it really is hard to see how the Mexican-British combination can stray too far south of podium contention, and title glory.