McLaren hasn’t been getting the results they were expecting thus far in their 2013 Formula 1 season, but they have been making slow progress in the right direction in terms of performance.
The team has been placing better as of late, scoring three top six finishes between their two race drivers in the past three races. In the first three Grands Prix of the year the Woking, UK based crew only managed one such performance. Given that after the first race of the season McLaren was considering switching away from their current car, the MP4-28, and back to their 2012 machine it seems as though progress is being made.
Where the team is lacking improvement is in the communication and driver management department. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez have clashed on the track twice thus far this season, once in Bahrain and once in Monaco. Both times Button, the vastly more experienced driver with a World Championship on his resume, told his team over the radio to calm Perez down and both times Button was ignored.
Perez has also had run-ins with other veteran drivers this year having twice clashed with Kimi Raikkonen. When interviewed about his most recent incident with Raikkonen during the Monaco Grand Prix, Perez responded, “In my opinion Kimi didn’t leave me enough room when I tried to pass him… at the end of the day, you have to leave each other a little room.” It would seem based on Checo’s comments, and his on track behavior, that the 23-year-old feels like he is owed something.
Perez has risen quickly and performed well in F1 given his youth, but he has yet to really earn anything. He has scored only three podiums and has yet to win a race. His best finish so far has been P2, which he managed twice. He has only competed in 44 races in Formula One so considering his relatively short career at the F1 level he has done very well, still that doesn’t give him an excuse to pull the moves he has been pulling.
The part of this McLaren drama with the biggest potential to blow up in their face is that the team doesn’t plan on reeling Perez in at all. In a recent interview McLaren sporting director Sam Michael said that the team will stand behind Perez if he keeps racing how he has been. I fully understand wanting your driver to be a hard-charger, but Checo’s driving is crossing over the line from aggressive and effective to reckless and foolish. That kind of attitude and approach can only hurt a team.
Had Perez not gotten impatient and waited to try and overtake Kimi until he was in a better position to do so he could have landed a top five finish in Monaco. Instead he overcompensated and came into the chicane too fast resulting in a collision that forced him to retire and finish P16.
In Formula 1 it has become taboo to suggest that teams have number one and number two drivers, but that’s just how it is. Some teams have drivers that are a little more closely matched, but often times the difference between the top guy and the second driver is notable. I don’t advocate neglecting one driver in order to help another or blatant favoritism, especially when the drivers are in that evenly matched category like Button and Perez are thus far this season. Currently Perez’s average finish is P10, while Button’s is P9, but McLaren needs to show Button some love and give him the respect he has earned in his lengthy career.
Perez is the new puppy in the house and as such the guys at McLaren seem to have forgotten about the loyal driver that has kept them in the sport over the years. At a minimum somebody high up in the organization needs to have a sit-down with Checo and get him to be a team player.
If things are as Michael suggests and the team will be slowly developing their car over the next several races in order to try and stick with the big boys at the end of the season, then they will need both drivers on the same page and working in support of each other. Right now the team is clearly favoring Perez.
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