In advance of 2013, there has been an unusual amount of activity in the driver market. Only Ferrari, Red Bull and Lotus are fielding unchanged driver line-ups, which leaves eight teams with the task of introducing new team-mates to each other. One such team is McLaren, where Lewis Hamilton has been replaced by Mexican Sergio Perez. As a result of the move, Jenson Button finds himself leading a team for the first time since his championship-winning season at Brawn in 2009.
For the past three seasons, Button and Hamilton have been team-mates at McLaren. While it was generally expected that Button would be in the shadow of 2008 Champion Hamilton, the reality was an unusual equality of top level drivers. Hamilton had a slight edge in terms of results over the thee-year period, winning ten races to Button’s eight and taking 8 pole position to Button’s solitary pole at Spa in 2012, but Button had the edge on points, with 672 compared to Hamilton’s 657. Neither driver finished lower than fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, with Button second in 2011, albeit some way behind Sebastian Vettel who dominated that season.
Now the British dream team is split up. Hamilton is off to Mercedes (which is in large part Button’s old Brawn team) and Button stays with McLaren to partner Sergio Perez. The young Mexican Perez presents a completely different challenge to Hamilton for Button. When Button joined McLaren, Hamilton had three seasons under his belt and had already been startlingly successful, having won 11 races and the 2008 World Championship. Perez, on the other hand, has had just two seasons for midfield team Sauber with his best results three podiums in 2012. Perez is certainly quick, but he is only 22 years old, and his youth has shown on the track in a few incidents, particularly in the latter part of 2012. Perez is also not a first-language English speaker, which could create something of a language barrier at his new, ultra-British team.
Button is entering his 14th consecutive season of Formula One and looking to build on an already successful career that includes 15 race victories and the 2009 World Championship. He is comfortable at McLaren, and has arguably produced his best driving since joining the Woking-based team. Button is the ideal partner and perhaps mentor for the young Perez, as he has a cool head and a wealth of experience to share. Importantly for McLaren’s development, Button is only 32 years old, and could still be in Formula One for some time.
McLaren had arguably the quickest car in 2012. Button suffered during the middle part of the season as the team struggled to set his car up for the 2012 Pirelli tyres, but Hamilton would have been a title contender to the end if not for recurring car failures in the second half of the season. With technical regulations largely unchanged for 2013, it is highly likely that the McLarens will be fighting for the World Championship again, and Button is the man expected to lead that challenge. His first task as team leader, however, will be be to beat his young and exciting team-mate.