Underlying my casual observations that this year, for the first time in quite a while, McLaren have finally dispensed with their tradition of unleashing a new car made of brick and instead, delivered a race-winning machine from the off. With Jenson Button winning the 2012 season-opening Grand Prix in Australia, faith has been restored that finally, finally, Red Bull's dominance over the sport has been broken.
True enough, McLaren are not set to disappear into the distance at every race but with Button's team mate Lewis Hamilton claiming pole position in Melbourne the previous day, the signs are that the boys from Woking have been paying attention in numeracy classes and have at last got their sums right.
Button's display in Oz was yet more proof that while Hamilton is largely regarded as being the 'faster' of the two over a single lap, winning grands prix necessitates multiplying that skill over the course of many laps and it is here were Button excels. The 2009 world champion is arguably the most relaxed human being on the planet let right now and his driving is of another world right now and this enables the 'Frome Flyer' to focus purely on his driving. Setting the fastest lap of the race in Melbourne with but two laps to go was testament to the speed of his McLaren and served notice to his rivals that his eyes are fixed firmly on the 2012 crown.
Hamilton on the other hand looked on the podium like he had lost a million pounds and found a Euro. His face belied his 3rd place performance and while this natural-born winner was at a loss as to why his speed on Saturday was not replicated in the race, his demeanour was of a child who had just had his sweets taken off him. Although there is no doubt that Hamilton and Button do get on as team mates, there is no question that Button’s influence within what has been regarded as ‘Lewis’s’ team, has started to irk the 2008 champion.
Last year’s much publicised meeting between Hamilton and Red Bull boss Christian Horner at the Canadian GP was more than just a casual chat over a cup of tea and with Mark Webber out of contract at the end of this year, Lewis must surely be tempted by the prospect of driving an Adrian Newey-designed car in 2013. McLaren is now a different team to the one prior to Button’s arrival in 2010 and while Managing Director Martin Whitmarsh and Managing Director Jonathan Neale state otherwise, there is no doubt that the 32-year olds personality and laid back approach is replicated in the team’s appearance and personality. There are no more ‘serious-looking, deep in thought, pressure obvious looking’ faces down at Woking and they are all the better for it. Last year, Button signed for another 3 years and to many within the Formula One paddock, he is seen as the future, not Hamilton. Signing for the Entertainment PR guru Simon Fuller’s 19 Management after leaving the comfort of his father’s guiding managerial hand, Hamilton has immersed himself with the company of ‘other’ celebrities and one has to wonder whether this has impacted on his much publicised mental state of mind.
In declaring last year that he ‘missed’ the benefits of a Button-esq ‘comfort-zone’ around him throughout the grand prix paddocks of the world following the breakdown of his relationship with his father and splitting with his long-term pop star girlfriend, Lewis was undoubtedly at sea during most of 2011. Now he says he has adopted a similar approach to his racing to that of his team mate but is that going to be enough to help keep him at McLaren beyond this year?
Time will tell…