Jenson Button could be thankful at least that McLaren allowed their drivers to race each other in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, even as he accused teammate Sergio Perez of dangerous and “dirty” driving.
The 2009 world champion looked for positives after he and his Mexican teammate cleared the air at a hastily arranged meeting with McLaren management after Sunday’s race.
“We have sat down and discussed it, and hopefully we have all learnt from the race … it could have all ended in a very different way for both of us,” Button told reporters.
“It’s great that we don’t have team orders and are allowed to fight,” he added.
“I think he will learn,” Button said of Perez. “I think it’s good being in a team like this that will be very open with comments and say what they think to the drivers, face-to-face. We’ve all done that, so that’s important.”
Perez and Button raced nose-to-tail and wheel-to-wheel, with the Mexican bumping the rear of the Briton’s car in one heartstopping moment for the McLaren pit wall, as he tried to find a way past.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh said he had come under considerable pressure from both sides of the garage — which he described as divided between “Team Button” and “Team Perez” — to intervene, but had refused to do so.
“‘Team Button’ want to beat ‘Team Perez.’ They’ll be saying ‘this is hurting us’ and that’s normal. We like that dynamic,” Whitmarsh said.
“Right down to the mechanics, they want their car to beat the other car. That’s how we work as a race team and it gives certain tensions in the system, but I think that’s the right way to do it,” he added.
The memory of this year’s controversial Malaysian Grand Prix remains fresh, even if McLaren have always maintained that their drivers are free to race each other — within reason.
In Malaysia, Red Bull told world champion Sebastian Vettel to stay behind teammate Mark Webber to the checkered flag because they were worried about tire wear. The German ignored the order, overtook and won in an action that enraged Webber and triggered a media storm.
In that same race, Mercedes told Nico Rosberg to stay behind teammate Lewis Hamilton because they feared the cars could run out of fuel. Their German complied and missed out on a podium place, despite feeling he was faster.
“I had a lot of noise in my ear from people suggesting I should stop them racing, we didn’t,” Whitmarsh said of Sunday’s incident.
“I think it was the right thing in the long term for both drivers to know they are racing each other and be competitive,” he added.
“We’ve seen it a couple of times this year, and the driver behind is always going to believe he was quicker, he’s always going to be aggrieved,” Whitmarsh said.
“Those guys are out there fighting and you can’t suddenly decide halfway through a race: ‘Oh, by the way, I didn’t mean it. Don’t fight because it looks uncomfortable for me,’” he said.
Whitmarsh said he was unlikely to issue any such command any time soon, even if he had explained to Perez later that he had gone too far.
However, the team boss also praised the 23-year-old Mexican for his fighting spirit and the “spark” he had shown.