McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh is confident Jenson Button and Sergio Perez will be able to move on after the team mates clashed several times in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
Perez, who joined McLaren from Sauber this season, has had a lacklustre start to the season, prompting Whitmarsh to tell him earlier this week that he needs to “toughen up” and “use his elbows” – and in Bahrain, the Mexican did just that.
The 23-year-old boldly overtook Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso to show signs of the spark which attracted McLaren to him in the first place. However, Whitmarsh was probably not expecting Perez to be so robust when racing his team mate.
While fighting over fifth place, Perez tapped the back of Button, breaking off a part of his front wing. Luckily for McLaren, it didn’t puncture Button’s rear tyre, nor necessitate a new front wing for Perez but it did prompt Button to get on the radio and say: “He’s just hit me up the back. Calm him down.”
The pair then banged wheels at high speed as Perez, who was faster than Button at that stage of the race, tried an ambitious move around the outside but Button defended, even squeezing his team mate off the track and onto the dusty run-off.
“It was uncomfortable for Jenson,” said Whitmarsh. “But they’re two good guys and I think they’ll work it out. We’ll probably get the two together and have a chat to them and let them talk amongst themselves.”
Whitmarsh said he had told Perez, known as Checo, after the race that hitting his team mate was unacceptable but otherwise praised his new charge’s ambition and spark as he went on to finish sixth, four places ahead of Button.
“Rule number one, don’t hit your team mate. That could have been a puncture for Jenson and taken his own front wing off. If he’d have come back to the garage then, he’d have been for it – and he knows that. Unquestionably that was over the limit. Wheel-to-wheel banging was marginal but you don’t jump on a youngster who has just done that.
“I want him to feel good. I told him one of the moves was beyond what I consider to be OK but he’s a young guy. I want him to enjoy the moment and what he did. It was some really spirited, tough driving. We’ll be calm and go through the other stuff.”
Button was furious with Perez after the race saying: “I’m not used to driving down a straight and your team mate wiggling his wheels at you and banging wheels at 300kph. That’s things you do in karting but grow out of. That’s not the case with Checo.
“We’ll have to have a little chat I think because I don’t like banging wheels at 300kph. That’s dangerous. He has to calm down. I mean, he’s extremely quick and did a great job today but some of it is unnecessary and an issue when you’re doing those speeds.”
Whitmarsh added: “Jenson doesn’t appreciate all that but the great thing is he’s a grown up. If he’s been beaten by his team mate and he’s happy I’d be concerned, but I’m not concerned that he feels like he does because that’s how he should do, but he’ll get over it.
“Very quickly he gets to that point where, because he is an intelligent guy, he will know that Sergio is not a bad guy.”
Perez admitted he was too aggressive in Bahrain, but said his team mate was equally as assertive.
He said: “I agree that we were too aggressive, but he was as aggressive as I was. I went out of the track a few times. We were fighting. This is something we have to speak about to sort it out.
“Hopefully for the next race we can help each other a little bit more, but with the pace of our car and where we were we could not give any room to anyone so we were fighting really hard.”