Two races into the second half of the season and a McLaren has led from start to finish. After Jensen Button romped home from pole in Spa, Lewis Hamilton repeated the trick at Monza. Button qualified second behind his team mate and a one-two looked on the cards, but a fuel supply problem ended hopes for a dream weekend in Italy.
Spa and Monza are high speed circuits, with high speed straights that suit the McLaren’s characteristics. With Lotus struggling with their much hyped double-DRS system, it is the team from Woking who have made the most of the mid-season break. Fernando Alonso continues to wring as much as is humanly possible from the Ferrari, Red Bull appear to have taken a step backwards, while Mercedes and Lotus are still unable to extract race winning pace from their cars.
However, the rocket red shirts that come out for a McLaren victory hide disappointment for Martin Whitmarsh and his colleagues. Three race wins on the spin looks impressive but the second McLaren car has finished sixth, DNF, DNF. They obviously have the car to win but through bad strategy (Button’s 6th in Hungary), bad luck (Hamilton crashed out on the first corner of Spa) or mechanical failure (Button in Monza) the team are not capitalising as they should. Red Bull still lead the Constructors championship by 29 points, despite neither of their cars finishing Monza, and Alonso has a 37 point lead in the Drivers championship despite having what is commonly accepted to be a poor car.
With tracks like Singapore and Abu Dhabi to come, and their medium speed corners that the McLaren struggles to get to grips with, McLaren may find themselves battling for podiums and points rather than race wins. Their time is now and they need to dominate.
There is also the problem of having two number 1 drivers in the team. Button may be 78 points away from the title but he is not ready to give up, while nowadays Hamilton appears on the cusp of doing something…unwise, shall we say, every time F1 embarks on a race weekend. The two drivers have different styles, so even if Button were to forfeit his challenge to aid Hamilton it is arguable that the Brits would be unable to help each other out.
Meanwhile Felipe Massa is firmly in his place as Alonso’s guinea pig, and despite only eight points separating them Sebastien Vettel is a clear number one at Red Bull, with Mark Webber not doing too bad for a number two, as he so memorably said when winning at Silverstone back in the day.
That being said, it is enjoyable to see a team let their two drivers do what they do best – race, and race to win. McLaren have the fastest car on the grid at the moment (despite what Peter Sauber might think) and their sterling efforts over the summer indicate they can win both the Drivers and Constructors championships. However they need to avoid the DNF’s and mistakes while they are on top because their rivals will soon catch up.
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