McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh has dismissed the misunderstanding between his drivers at the end of the Turkish Grand Prix, saying that when Lewis Hamilton was told that Jenson Button would not pass him, this was an engineer’s “opinion”, rather than a team policy.
Speaking in a Vodafone teleconference with the leading websites, he also said that in the new style F1 racing, it is hard to know when – or indeed if – to stop drivers from racing each other in the interests of the team.
In the closing stages of the race Hamilton was told to save fuel, Button likewise. Hamilton took it fairly easy, thinking that they were driving, rather than racing, to the finish. When Button closed on him he said, “Jenson’s closing in on me, you guys. If I back off, is Jenson going to pass me or not?”
The team replies: “No, Lewis. No.”
Whitmarsh says that this was the opinion of chief engineer Phil Prue, rather than the statement of a team decision. Perhaps this misunderstanding arose because McLaren is still cautious about crossing the FIA, even though Max Mosley is no longer president, and did not want it’s fuel saving instruction to be construed as a team order, which would be prohibited under F1 rules.
“Shortly after he was told that Jenson wouldn’t overtake him, Jenson did overtake him, ” said Whitmarsh. “Phil gave an opinion. It turned out his opinion was wrong. They are both racing drivers, they had a challenge in that race. The race was quicker for the Red Bulls and McLarens than expected so we were consuming more fuel than we needed to.
“It wasn’t expected that Lewis would lift as much as he did in Turn 8. For Jenson who is a racing driver, when he saw quite a big lift in Turn 8 he thought it was his opportunity and made the pass.”
There is still plenty of confusion about how the incident occurred with McLaren engineer Tim Goss saying that the drivers were given identical lap times to stick to, while Button says he was not given any specifics.
Whitmarsh added that teams which let their drivers race each other are going to face the problem of what to do with drivers in a 1-2 situation when drivers have to save fuel. In the refuelling era, it was generally accepted that the team mates could race until the final pit stop and then hold station, but with only one early stop in most races and drivers saving different amounts of fuel, the prospect for some exciting racing late in the event certainly exists. But as Red Bull proved and McLaren almost proved, it can have disastrous consequences.
“There is a dilemma at the end of a race about how hard you can race, ” said Whitmarsh. “We had it amply demonstrated that a team and drivers can get that wrong. But there is no doubt that both of our drivers want to win.”
So it seems that for the moment there is no rule controlling drivers in the closing stages of the race.
Whitmarsh added that this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix should suit the McLaren more than the Red Bull team. However rain is forecast for the weekend and there are plenty of pitfalls. It is one of the hardest races of the season on brakes, for example, and with the cars starting the race on full tanks, managing brakes will be vital.