Lewis Hamilton and the news you’ve been waiting for…

Is the fro coming back?

You may remember last year I asked Lewis if there was any chance we’d see him regrow his GP2 generation afro, to which he replied there wasn’t. I wanted to start a “regrow the fro” campaign, but alas, there seemed little point.

Well, the man who currently sports what I term the “Taaj Beard” (as it looks somewhat reminiscent of the facial hair sported by the Matt Lucas comedy character Taaj Manzoor in the show “Come Fly With Me” – see images below), has apparently admitted that anything is possible with regard to his Formula 1 future… even referencing a return of the fro!

In an interview with El Mundo’s Jaime Rodriguez, Lewis, when asked if he’d ever leave McLaren, is reported to have said: “I can’t imagine it but anything’s possible, like one day I’ll let my hair grow into an afro.”

The regrow the fro campaign is gathering pace. Keep the faith people. Keep the faith.

Lewis

Taaj

How 2500 year old philosophy helped Red Bull win in 2010

Sun Tzu - the Godfather of strategic thinking

You can tell its winter and not a lot is happening when I start writing stuff like this. But here we go…

In recent weeks a lot has been made of the final race of the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship and in the tactical errors made by Ferrari which ultimately saw Fernando Alonso miss out on a third title. There’s been talk that heads will roll at Maranello for the blunder in Abu Dhabi, an over reaction of epic proportions if ever I heard one. Formula 1 may be big business, but it is still ultimately a sport and as a sport there is no such thing as a certainty. It is a big, glamorous game and as with every game if one is to succeed one must take risks, make snap decisions and ride out the consequences. Ferrari gambled, and it didn’t pay off. That’s life.

All of this talk about strategy and tactics however got me thinking back to my years at University studying political science, and in particular to two pretty hectic modules I took entitled Strategic Studies. Now some of the teachings were pretty mind numbing, but there were a few which have stuck with me not only because they made sense and intrigued me, but because they have direct relevance to not only the world in which I find myself employed, but the world in which we live our everyday lives.

In his work “On War” the man often credited as the father of modern strategic thinking and my usual starting point for strategic thinking, General Carl Von Clausewitz, describes strategy as being a phenomenon based primarily in art… a concept which, as my rusty cogs turned over the past week, led me directly to the man widely held as the godfather of strategic thinking, Sun Tzu, a 5th Century BC philosopher and military general who wrote the bible of strategy – “The Art of War.”

So, you ask, what in the hell has some ancient Chinese bloke got to do with Formula 1 and Red Bull’s championship challenge in 2010? Interestingly, quite a bit, as Red Bull’s strategy this season, under the leadership of Christian Horner almost perfectly reflects the teachings of the godfather of military thinking…

Fernando Alonso - Abu Dhabi 2010. http://www.sutton-images.com

With Ferrari showing its hand early on that it was putting all of its weight behind Alonso, Red Bull and Christian Horner had a choice to make, and it falls into one of Sun Tzu’s most basic lessons – namely that victory is more likely to be assured the more numerous one’s army.

“It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. If equally matched, we can (only) offer battle.”

Thus by realising that by supporting both drivers he had two points of attack and twice as numerous an attacking force, Horner retook the strategic advantage from Ferrari.

“Victory lies in the knowledge of five points

1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight
2. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces
3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all ranks
4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared
5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign

Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

It is in this section of “The Art of War,” that I believe Horner and Red Bull got things really right. The team, throughout the season, seemed the best prepared and in every race seemed to know when to hold position and when to push. There was never really a case of them pushing beyond their limitations. Sure Vettel got a bit wild at points, but the team’s strategy itself was calm. The fifth point is also one of which we must make reference. For while Luca di Montezemolo is an enormous figure in the Ferrari team and whose scorn nobody wishes to bring down upon them, so conversely at Red Bull do we have Dietrich Mateschitz who just sort of let Christian Horner run things however he wanted to, and said to the very last race that they would do things right and allow the drivers to race, even if it meant losing out on the drivers’ championship.

“Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to the battle, will arrive exhausted.”

Of course, much of Red Bull’s advantage came from having the fastest car from the very first race of the season. Being first to the fight meant everyone was trying to catch them, and any upgrades they made would only extend that trend. t is what led to so much discord and discontent within the season as everyone believed the team was cheating. The team, of course, only saw this as a backhanded compliment that their car was so good that it had got everyone else running scared.

Christian Horner - http://www.sutton-images.com

“The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”

This phrase could have been written about Christian Horner. Level headed, calm, almost shy at times, he proved himself in 2010 to be the perfect General. And just as the Sovereign left his General to direct his armies in the manner he saw fit, so was he able to do so due to the skills of the General in question.

Next up, though, is one of Sun Tzu’s most interesting philosophies and one which, when we think about it, might well have been employed by Red Bull in 2010…

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe that we are away; when far away we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. Pretend to grow weak, that he may grow arrogant.”

Vettel versus Webber was the story of 2010… but could this have been a tactic to create an unfounded level of confidence in their rivals? Webber was the driver that the team seemed to be putting down at Silverstone, and yet he sailed to victory. In Brazil the team seemed divided and at one of its weakest points. The drivers finished 1-2 in the race. By dividing his drivers Horner had already increased the team’s odds of success in the drivers’ championship over those of Ferrari because they had two drivers able to take the crown. By creating a supposed tension between the drivers, had he also created a diversion for Ferrari? Had Red Bull created the impression of discord to, as Sun Tzu suggests, hold out bait to the enemy that he might grow arrogant?

Frankly I doubt it as the animosity between Webber and Vettel really did seem very real at points in 2010. But it is an interesting thought when you compare it to the harmony between the two McLaren drivers.

Vettel Vs Webber... discontent or clever strategy?

And thus it all came down to Abu Dhabi and that final race. In keeping two lines of attack, Horner and Red Bull were in the perfect position because Ferrari had to choose which driver to cover – Vettel or Webber…

“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

And so it was that by Ferrari limiting itself to one line of attack, it had to fight a war on two fronts in the final race. As Sun Tzu wrote, the opportunity of defeating the enemy had been provided by the enemy itself. In keeping two drivers in the hunt, Horner and red Bull had fulfilled another of Sun Tzu’s philosphies…

“The general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defence whose opponent does not know what to attack.”

And so it was that Ferrari covered Webber, Alonso lost the crown, and Red Bull pulled off the perfect season with both championships and Sebastian Vettel became the youngest F1 world champion in history.

Now I’m not claiming that any of Sun Tzu’s teachings actually played on Christian Horner’s mind in 2010… it’s just me being a little bit geeky I guess. “The Art of War” remains an incredible piece of work and something well worth a read.

No doubt if Christian Horner has read it, though, he’ll be aiming to go one better in 2011 and fulfil Sun Tzu’s most basic principle…

“Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.”

Is Formula 1 bringing itself into disrepute?

The Safety Car - Valencia 2010 © http://www.sutton-images.com

What a difference a day makes. On Sunday morning we were all expecting a fairly dull race on a weekend in which F1 had finally seemed to find some stability. A feeling of calm had washed over the paddock with the teams all fairly happy and united under FOTA, the driver market pretty much sorted and the rules and regulations for the future cemented by the FIA.

But Fernando Alonso’s claims of a fixed race have well and truly rocked the fragile peace in the sport. Indeed there have even been suggestions that the FIA is acting with severe bias towards Lewis Hamilton and McLaren.

Now if you’re finding those comments odd, you’re not the only one. The FIA favouring McLaren against Ferrari? Really? Have we switched into a parallel dimension? Fair is foul and foul is fair and all that? There was a time, not too long ago, when the FIA was nicknamed “Ferrari International Assistance” after so many of the body’s decisions seemed to favour the scarlet cars over any others, particularly those from Woking.

Instead, after the European Grand Prix, there was something of a feeling that Ferrari and Alonso’s petulance and comments in themselves were the most damaging thing for the sport, and they could yet land them in hot water for bringing Formula 1 into disrepute.

But then again, you can kind of see where they’re coming from. Hamilton passed the safety car and finished second. Alonso didn’t and came eighth. So in essence, Hamilton cheated and yet wasn’t really punished harshly enough in Ferrari’s eyes as he pulled a better result out of the bag than the man who didn’t cheat. I like Lewis, I’m a big fan, but by overtaking the safety car he broke the rules. Simple.

Alonso said he’d never seen anything like it before. But I have, and I’m afraid that it won’t help Lewis’ cause, because he was the guilty party once again. It was 2006, in the GP2 race in Imola, and Lewis overtook the safety car after falsely thinking he was being waved through when in fact it was waving through the Campos cars ahead of him. Lewis was leading the race at that time and should have stayed behind the safety car. His penalty? A black flag and disqualification from the race. So I can see why Ferrari would be upset that a similar penalty was not applied to Lewis for this transgression.

Lewis Hamilton shortly before his black flag - GP2 Imola 2006. © www.sutton-images.com

I’m also failing to fully understand the brace of 5 second penalties handed out to the nine drivers who ran too quickly in comparison to the delta times when entering the pits under the safety car. Because if this is the precedent, then why on earth should drivers pay any attention to the delta times in the future? If a 5 second penalty is now considered the norm for such a transgression, sticking to race pace on an inlap under the safety car could very easily buy a driver far more than the 5 second penalty he’d incur for sticking to his delta time.

The result of the stewarding decisions in Valencia, therefore, have completely made a mockery of the safety car regulations. And if anything, is not the role of the FIA to ensure that the rules and their application are consistent, transparent and precise enough to instil confidence in the sport? What about the fans who watch the race, be they those who pay for their tickets or are simply watching it at home? If 9 drivers had been kicked further down the field hours after the race had finished, for their safety car transgressions, what sort of message does that hand out to the fans?

It says, don’t bother to tune in to the race. Just watch the news tomorrow morning when hopefully we will have had a cup of tea and figured out who should have won. It is little wonder Ferrari is kicking off. But their gripe shouldn’t be with McLaren or Hamilton because they simply made the best out of the situation they were placed in. They were handed a penalty and they rose above it beautifully, just as Mark Webber did in taking his first F1 victory at the Nurburgring last season. The issue here lies in the regulations, and more importantly in their application during the race.

There was another example of stewarding inefficiency in Valencia and it was for a moment in the first GP2 race when Alberto Valerio’s Coloni was released from the pits with the rear jack still attached. The team appeared not to tell Valerio to pull over, and for 5 corners the Brazilian ran at race speed with the rear jack lurching from side to side as a clearly edgy Sergio Perez tried to keep his distance. In the end the jack released itself at Turn 5 and crashed heavily into an FOM camera point, scaring the living crap out of Nicolo the cameraman on site. It smashed the crap out of the camera too.

The team was brought before the stewards after the race. And their penalty? A €1500 fine. Seriously. €1500 Euros.

Let’s go back 12 months to the Hungarian Grand Prix when Fernando Alonso was released from a pitstop with a loose wheel, which detached itself and bounced down the track. It didn’t hit anyone or anything, but the Renault F1 team was slapped with a ban for the next race. The ban was subsequently overturned, but the message was clear – you do not knowingly, under any circumstances, endanger your driver, the other drivers, the track workers or fans.

How on earth the stewards deemed that €1500 was a sufficient penalty is beyond me. A ban from the next race, or at least a fine that would have paid the tens of thousands of Euros that a new trackside camera will cost FOM, seemed a fairer decision.

They had a nightmare in Valencia, plain and simple.

Lewis Hamilton passes the safety car - Valencia 2010 © www.sutton-images.com

Their indecision and delay in the F1 race meant that the handing down of Hamilton’s drive through had nowhere near the level of effect which the application of a penalty should have. The precedent was a black flag but they applied a drive through. A simple look on a pocket calculator would have told them a drive-through wouldn’t change much in terms of race order, so if they had really wanted to penalise Hamilton why not give him a stop-go, or the black flag the precedent had already set down?

Given the level of data at their disposal, why did it take the stewards over half the race to figure out that 9 drivers might have gone too fast on their safety car in laps, and with all of that data on hand why therefore could they not have applied drive through penalties during the race rather than creating a potential “false” result, to use Ferrari’s words, after the event had been concluded.

For one of very few occasions in my life, I find myself agreeing with the sentiments of Luca di Montezemolo, who today has claimed that the events of the weekend have set “dangerous precedents, throwing a shadow over the credibility of Formula 1.”

The stewards decisions seemed to be too little too late and set a dangerously ineffectual precedent on the position of the stewards and their power or strength of character to make the correct call at the correct time.

Nobody wants to see a race decided in the stewards office after the chequered flag has fallen. As Lewis proved in Valencia, and as we have seen many times in the past, a driver can often pull out the most incredible races when he has an obstacle, or a penalty, to overcome. What is most galling for the fans of this sport and for the drivers themselves, is when they are penalised off the track for something they have done on it.

We need decisions to be made faster by the stewards during the races to allow the drivers an opportunity to fight back on track. We need the penalties, when applied, to be comparable to the offence, be that in their harshness or in their leniency. And above all we need consistency in the penalties and their application from case to case, weekend to weekend, driver to driver and team to team.

If we don’t get it the only thing that will bring the sport into disrepute, is the sport itself.

Hey Lewis, Calm Down! JB’s an old smoothie!

Eh, eh, eh! Calm Down, Calm Down!

The Australian Grand Prix provided us with a few pretty major graphic illustrations. It wasn’t only that opening an F1 season at the appallingly redesigned Bahrain International Circuit is a shocking idea, because for my money what today displayed in no uncertain terms is that Lewis Hamilton ‘aint going to find 2010 quite as easy as he thought he was going to.

His post race strop pretty much summed it all up.

“I think I probably had one of the drives of my life and unfortunately, due to the strategy, I was put further back and then I got taken out by Mark Webber,” he told the BBC.

OK Lewis, calm down. Because, if we’re being honest, you kind of made your own bed on this one.

Before this season had even begun, the removal of refuelling had already been picked up within the F1 community as a facet of the new era of Formula 1 which could work against Lewis. Notoriously hard on his tyres, the 2008 world champion’s driving style does not naturally lend itself to having to preserve one’s rubber for as long as possible. On the flip side, his new team-mate and 2009 world champ Jenson Button is renowned for his smooth, almost effortless driving style which would, so we presumed, give itself more easily to the new regs.

JB won today’s race because of two major factors: Firstly, it was Jenson and Jenson alone who took the gamble to pit when he did for slicks. Second, it was Jenson and Jenson alone who pushed when he knew he could on his tyres, and yet still held enough in reserve to make them last until the end of the race.

So when we heard Lewis on the radio to the team in the middle of the race, cursing them for making him pit for a second set of slick tyres, and then slamming that very second set when he’d knackered them, we’re left with a very easy comparison. Because if his team-mate had managed to make them last the distance, why couldn’t Lewis?

Lewis Hamilton - Australian GP 2010
© http://www.sutton-images.com

“I’m happy with the job that I did. I think I honestly drove my heart out today and I think I deserved better than what I ended up with, but I’ll keep fighting to the next race.

“All I know is the guys do, always, a fantastic job, but the strategy was not right,” he said after the race. “Everyone else in front of me did one stop and for some reason I did two.”

Lewis always likes to talk up his role as a team-player at McLaren, but his post race sentiments reflect the dented ego of a man who has had his feathers very much ruffled by a driver whom he had perhaps failed to size up accurately. Most people expected Lewis to completely batter Jenson this season and maybe Lewis expected as much himself, so seeing Button take McLaren’s first win of the season will hit Lewis where it hurts. It will hurt even more as today’s race was won not only through Jenson’s superiority in the smooth driving stakes, but also through Jenson’s experience and confidence in making the right call at the perfect time.

Lewis has been criticised in the past for relying too heavily on the team to make decisions for him, and last season’s whole fall-out from the Australian Grand Prix came about because, as Hamilton himself has gone on the record to state… he did what the team told him to do.

When Lewis was asked who had been responsible for the call to stop a second time, he replied: “I don’t know, we’ll find out.”

The fact that the call came at all, and that Lewis either didn’t feel confident enough or have the wherewithal to overrule McLaren if he truly felt confident enough on his original set of rubber, shows us that Lewis either still lacks the experience to make his own calls or that he may have to look back on this race and admit that the team was right to make the call because he’d knackered his tyres.

Either way, slamming the team isn’t going to help matters. It just smacks of sour grapes on a day when the newboy to the team got one over on him.

The public face may be one of all smiles at McLaren, but I guarantee it will not be long before the cracks start to appear if Jenson’s confidence, maturity and smooth driving style keep reaping the rewards that they did today.

P.S. Apologies that I haven’t posted in a while… but my Daughter Sophie said hello to the world last Thursday morning. She is gorgeous, and she and her Mum are both doing fantastically. My attention has, naturally, been with them.

Whitmarsh – FOTA and McLaren willing to help new teams.

Martin Whitmarsh © http://www.sutton-images.com

McLaren’s Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh has pledged that Formula 1 will do all it can to help the sport’s new teams succeed, as the financial and sporting future of at least half of F1’s new entrants looks to be in jeopardy with a matter of days to go until pre-season testing gets underway.

His comments come just a day after Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo reignited the discussion surrounding the provision of customer cars to new teams in order to aid their transition to F1.

“I think we, as McLaren and myself as chairman of FOTA, recognise that we will do all we can to demonstrate that new entrants are possible in F1,” he said at today’s launch of the McLaren MP4-25.

“It is clearly tough for the new teams to come into the sport. We know how difficult it is, with all the experience and resources we have, to be ready for the start of the season. So it must be very difficult for any new team. I don’t think we should apologise for that. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and if it was easy for anyone to get out their chequebook and go motor racing at the highest level next year, then we would really not have been working as hard as we should have been as established teams.

“We don’t want any team to fail, we should be doing all that we can within the F1 community. I think FOTA has been a coming-together of all of the teams for the first time in the history of F1. The spirit that exists in F1 is unique now, certainly in my 20 years of experience in the sport. So I think we will do what we can, but ultimately if there are teams that just don’t have the capability or resource or underestimated the task of being at the highest level of motorsport in the world, then some you can help and some you can’t.”

Whitmarsh maintained that McLaren remained open to the possibility of supplying customer cars, but expressed his surprise that none of the new teams, save for the as yet still mysterious Stefan GP, decided to take up the option of buying Toyota’s completed 2010 racer.

“I think philosophically McLaren believes that it is important F1 entrants develop their own cars, however, we are pragmatists and we have demonstrated in the past a willingness to provide customer cars. We remain willing, but I don’t know we are ready to do it quite before Bahrain if a team needs it.

“Ironically quite a lot of these teams had an opportunity to acquire a Toyota chassis. Toyota built two cars that were available from Christmas, and I am rather surprised that some of them did not do that – they rather looked a gift horse in the mouth. That was, perhaps, the wrong decision but nevertheless they had their own reasons for that decision. We have to see in the coming weeks or months whether we can help those new teams to be there to add to the flavour and diversity of F1.”

Only five seats left as Pedro signs for Sauber

Pedro de la Rosa's testing pitboard © http://www.sutton-images.com

One down, five to go. Pedro de la Rosa’s confirmation this morning as a BMW Sauber driver has completed one further piece of the 2010 jigsaw, leaving just five vacant seats on this season’s grid: one at Renault, one at Toro Rosso, one at Campos and two at USF1.

Pedro’s return to a race seat had been expected for some time, although his ultimate destination remains a relative surprise. Until very recently a move to the new Campos squad had been mooted, for it was under the guidance of Adrian Campos that de la Rosa reached F1 back in the late 1990s. Campos himself had held out tremendous hope of signing his former young charge but recently admitted he had given up all hope after finding Spanish sponsors to be fairly non plussed about the idea.

De la Rosa’s abilities as a test and development driver in Formula 1 are pretty much unrivalled in this modern era, with only the likes of Montagny and Davidson in my opinion coming close. Thus what he brings to a team in his technical ability to deliver a quick car makes him an almighty asset. The intensity on Martin Whitmarsh’s face in conversation with Campos towards the end of the season certainly gave the impression that McLaren did not want to let the Spaniard go without a fight, but with limited testing agreed for 2010 there would have been little chance for de la Rosa to have made an impact on the MP4-25.

His worth to BMW Sauber, or Sauber or whatever it’s going to end up being called, is therefore vast. After a season of immense under-achievement in 2009, Sauber needs to get back on the right tracks this year and with the inexperienced Kamui Kobayashi in the second car, the team needed a man with experience to head up the team. In de la Rosa they have experience and class and if Kamui is smart he will learn all he can from Pedro.

Spare a thought however for Nick Heidfeld and Christian Klien. Heidfeld, as a BMW Sauber driver for the last four seasons and a Sauber driver for three seasons before that, will have been hoping that the vacant Sauber seat would be his. Today’s news thus forms the second massive disappointment for him in the last month, following his rejection by Mercedes in favour of Michael Schumacher. His racing options for 2010 are running out. And fast.

Christian Klien will be distraught. A dedicated tester for BMW Sauber for the last two years, he had hoped to be taken on by the team as a racer for 2010. With no racing experience in F1 since 2006, his sole realistic option of a race seat this season has also now gone.

Campos will also be gutted. De la Rosa was exactly the kind of driver the team needed to push the development of their new car in testing, and his experience would have benefitted Bruno Senna, thus far the team’s only confirmed driver, immensely. Speaking with Bruno a few weeks ago when I went to see him in Brazil, I know how much he was hoping to have Pedro as a team-mate so this news will come as something of a blow for the whole Campos outfit.

The big question now is who will fill the remaining five seats in Formula 1.

Renault is by far the most sought after seat. Nick Heidfeld would have to be considered to be in contention at the team given his experience and working relationship with Robert Kubica, but to my mind he doesn’t fit the bill. He’s not part of the dynamic young breed and his results don’t stand him out as one of the experienced drivers you’d break your back to sign. Yes he’s speedy, but is he speedy enough? Two rejections in a month say he’s not. Jacques Villeneuve’s links with Gravity Management and the team’s new owners make him an enticing possibility and the PR from bringing another champion back to the sport would be pretty handy. But is it realistic?

Then there’s the aforementioned Montagny. It is worth remembering Renault hasn’t won a championship since they dumped him as their test and development driver and to my mind that is not a coincidence. He’s currently racing for Peugeot at Le Mans, so a move to Renault would make waves in France, too. All in all it makes perfect sense.

There are also the former Super Aguri boys. Takuma Sato is still hungry and superbly fast, and is a huge draw in Japan. His return to F1 would be big news and a popular move by the team. Anthony Davidson made a spectacular shift in jobs last year, becoming one of the most entertaining and insightful commentators in F1, but he is a racer and deserves a seat if there is one in the sport. And just as with Pedro and Franck, his car development skills are phenomenal.

Toro Rosso’s a strange one. Alguersuari wasn’t abysmal last season and it would be good for the team to give him another shot, but it is a foolish man who tries to second guess what Red Bull is going to do with its young drivers. By that token, Daniel Ricciardo could get the job and from his testing form he’d be an exciting prospect. But with Ferrari engines in the back, might we also see the Scuderia’s tester Giancarlo Fisichella in a Toro Rosso? It’s not out of the realms of possibility but would not fit in with the general ethos of the team.

It seems that the other three seats will fall down to budget. Kazuki Nakajima has been rumoured to be close to the second Campos seat with a budget of around $10million, while Vitaly Petrov and Pastor Maldonado have long been linked with the squad. From what I understand of the situation the latter two became so embroiled in a fight for the seat that the battle to outbid each other put both outside their realistic budget, thus setting the whole process back.

And as for USF1… your guess is as good as mine. Heidfeld? Klien? Maldonado? Jose Maria Lopez is understood to have a pre-contract in place that will give him the seat if he can raise $8million, but that remains to be seen. By leaving their decisions to the very last minute however, the team may yet be able to land themselves a couple of pretty nifty drivers at bargain basement prices because if they leave it much longer, they should have the only two seats left in the sport.

Why Jenson was right to move

The web of late has been flooded with stories and opinions as to why Jenson Button’s decision to walk away from Mercedes (Brawn) and leap two-footed into the apparent career quicksand of partnering Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, is a foolish one.

My good friend and colleague Adam Hay-Nicholls wrote a really good piece about it on his blog, which I can recommend as top reading as he makes some thought-provoking points.

Click here to read Adam’s piece on the Metro F1 website.

See, told you it was interesting.

As for me, however, I’m not so convinced that JB’s move is as bad an idea as everyone is making out.

Since the mid-point of the 2009 season, when it started to look as though Jenson had taken his foot off the gas and was backing into the championship, he’s had some pretty fierce critics. There have been many who have claimed that he’s not a worthy champion, that he’ll never go down as one of the true greats. Frankly I find that argument a little hard to swallow. I mean, Keke Rosberg won the title with a single win to his name in his championship year, and the guy’s a legend.

Does it really matter how one wins the title, or merely that one does it at all? I personally think Jenson is a great champion, and his story in overcoming the obstacles of his career in many ways make him even more worthy. To come back from so many blows and to see that childhood dream become reality, after all of those earth-shattering moments when the prospect of becoming world champion must have seemed a world away, takes something special.

So here we have a champion, but one whose ultimate talent is being questioned because he was given the best car of 2009 and made the championship look far harder than it should have been.

What better move to make, then, than to put himself up against one of the out-and-out fastest and most competitive racing drivers not just in F1, but the world today? Not only does it show that Jenson’s not afraid to take on anybody, but it also shows he has the self-belief in his own abilities that he can go to McLaren, which is quite clearly Lewis’ team, and beat him on his own turf.

As world champion, there may never be another time in Button’s career at which his star shines as bright, nor at which his reputation is as vast as it is today. Don’t forget that 12 months ago Jenson was staring unemployment in the face. And now he has signed a three-year deal to race for McLaren, a team whose history and record in Formula 1 is second only to Ferrari.

Would you let that opportunity slip? I mean, come on… it’s McLaren. And the boys at Woking do not come knocking every day.

So what do you get at McLaren? A damn good car is a given.

Even in 2009, a car which started off the season as a dog was, by the mid-point of the campaign, winning races. The resources, talent-pool and simple desire to win at the team is staggering. Button could not wish to place himself at the centre of an outfit more tuned towards the objective of winning. That hunger, that competitive instinct, can only be of benefit to the reigning champ.

Plus, in 2010, McLaren will, for the first time in a decade, be its own team. With Mercedes no longer on the board following its 75.1% purchase of Brawn, McLaren is McLaren once more. That most British of teams will, in some ways, get some of its soul back.

While one must hope that the team will still be afforded the incredible reliability which marked out their joint relationship, it is fair to say that Mercedes’ focus will now be on the former Brawn team, and this could play against McLaren. However in 2009 Mercedes showed that, despite its ties with McLaren, it was perfectly able to supply another two teams with good enough equipment to see Brawn take the title and Force India emerge as the surprise package of the season.

Jenson therefore will have a quality car and be up against quality opposition. Sounding good? You bet.
There’s another element, however, and it is one which I think is pretty crucial.

Jenson has been at BAR / Honda / Brawn (call it what you will) for over half a decade. The team in all that time, other than the men at the top, has changed very little. It’s only normal for the guy to want a change.

Plus, and here’s the clincher, this was Jenson’s first and only opportunity to get himself free of the bind that he was in at the team.

It is important to remember that Jenson’s career at BAR and Honda was framed by some pretty bad decisions. For a start his original management team lost a vast amount of his money via the scandal that erupted when they signed for Williams, only to be told by the Contract Recognition Board that they could not do so. Button was forced to stay at the team, and thereafter was essentially owned by them. His commercial rights were taken away from him, and his freedom to negotiate or to get himself out of the team disappeared.

It is thus interesting to read Nick Fry’s recent quotes, as the financial considerations are not as simple as he makes out.

“We offered loyalty which we hoped, perhaps naively, he would return,” Fry told the Daily Mirror. “There is bravery and there is stupidity, and we will only find out which it is next year.

“We believe we made Jenson a good offer – one that was significantly more than he is being paid at McLaren. We are all mystified by this decision. We think he has been badly advised and had his head turned by McLaren’s glitzy headquarters.”

Personally, I think Jenson’s head was turned by the opportunity of racing for one of the greatest teams in Formula 1 history. I think Jenson’s head was turned by an opportunity to put himself up against one of the best drivers in the sport today. Win or lose, nobody will be able to argue in the future that he hasn’t left himself open to scrutiny.

And when Fry refers to the financial aspect, he would do well to temper his statements with a touch of humility given that the Mercedes buy-out of the team has gifted him what has been estimated to be in the region of $30million. Considering that Button took a 70% paycut to help ensure the team’s future, Fry has a lot to thank Jenson for. Actually he has about 30 million reasons to be thankful to him.

Jenson meanwhile may not be getting as high a base salary from McLaren as he might have been offered at Brawn, but he is finally free from the constraints which held him at Honda. His relationship with Fry was known to have become stretched, the forced smiles at times a touch too saccharin to really believe.

For Jenson therefore, I believe this move to McLaren will also come as something of a relief.

While he will not like to be leaving his boys, and in particular Andrew Shovlin his long time engineer and bezzie mate, Jenson has had to make a clean break.

There are times in everyone’s lives where the relationships in which they find themselves stop giving back what they once did. The weight of history is often too great to overlook, and no matter how great things might be at the time there may always be a niggling doubt of what could be achieved elsewhere.

I think that is ultimately where Jenson is at right now. His relationship with the team that he has seen through three different incarnations is simply at an end.

He needs a new environment, a new relationship. He needs a new challenge, and the excitement that comes along with something different.

I think Jenson’s move to McLaren is the first thing that has really made sense in his career in a good many years. Of course, I wish him luck. He may need it for 2010 as it could yet be, competitively, the toughest season of his F1 career.

But he is taking his opportunity by the balls, and I cannot help but admire him for that.