It’s been said the driver policy at McLaren is simple: find the two best drivers available and hire them.
Once again they have hired a pair of champion drivers, something which is not that common in F1. The surprise 2010 pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button is the latest in a series that includes the likes of Alain Prost, Niki Lauda and Ayrton Senna.
McLaren’s newest champion duo has a lot to live up to. How will they compare to the past greats of the Woking team?
Alain Prost and Niki Lauda, 1984-1985
Greatness: Ended up with seven championships between them, each winning one while team mate to the other. They benefitted from the exceptional power and flexibility of the TAG-sponsored Porsche 1.5-litre turbo engines, as well as an excellent John Barnard-designed chassis, which won 12 of the 16 rounds in 1984.
Each was a master in the art preserving a car over a race distance and working their way through the field to victory. The same season they won 12 races they had only three pole positions – and they were separated by just half a point at the end of the year.
Weakness: Their second season as team mates was a disaster for Lauda, who slumped to tenth in the championship, largely due to a string of car failures. Lauda left the team at the end of 1985 unhappy with what he perceived to be Ron Dennis giving preferential treatment to Prost.
Record: Prost won his first of two championships while Lauda’s team mate, and went on to win three more. Lauda’s 1984 title was his third and last after winning two with Ferrari in the 1970s.
Alain Prost and Keke Rosberg, 1986
Greatness: Rosberg made a one-year stop-off at McLaren while en route from Williams to retirement. Although the McLaren-TAG now lacked the outright pace of the Williams-Hondas, a dramatic twist at the final round let Prost in to claim a sensational second championship win.
Weakness: Just one podium finish for Rosberg who struggled to adapt to the MP4-2C. But the pair remained on good terms and Rosberg was happy to support Prost’s title bid in the latter stages of the season.
Record: Rosberg joined defending champion Prost for 1986 having won the 1982 championship for Williams despite taking just a single race win that year. Prost won his second world championship while the pair were team mates.
Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, 1988-1989
Greatness: Probably the greatest driver pairing of all time. Not even Michael Schumacher-era Ferrari matched the dominant form of Prost and Senna in 1988, winning all bar one of the 16 rounds and finishing one-two in half of the races. Prost’s consistency and Senna’s daunting one-lap pace made them a formidable duo the likes of which has scarcely been seen before or since.
Weakness: Certainly the most infamous driving pairing of all time. Fell out over Senna’s defensive driving at Estoril in 1988, then over a deal Prost claim Senna reneged on at Imola in 1989. Culminated in Prost swiping into Senna’s car at Suzuka in 1989, winning the title in the process. Prost had already announced he would leave the team for Ferrari, and 12 months later Senna took his revenge at the same track.
Record: Senna won his first championship with McLaren at this time and Prost claimed his third. Senna went on to win two more with McLaren while partnering Gerhard Berger, while Prost took his fourth and last at Williams with Damon Hill as his team mate.
Mika Hakkinen and Nigel Mansell, 1995
Greatness: While together, not much.
However their car, the first Mercedes-engined McLaren, was a disaster. Mansell didn’t even fit in it to begin with and Mark Blundell took his place while the cockpit was enlarged. Mansell drove it twice, registering a tenth place and a withdrawal, and then never again.
Record: Mansell won one championship with Williams in 1992 after being runner-up on three occasions. Hakkinen stuck with McLaren and was rewarded with back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999.
Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, 2007
Greatness: Either Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso could have won the 2007 championship, but both fell short by a point, partly because neither emerged as the consistently better driver over the course of the year.
Weakness: The pair traded blows all year. Hamilton claimed Alonso was favoured by the team at Monte-Carlo, then refused to let his team mate by when instructed to at Hungary. That provoked a reaction from Alonso which earned the Spanish driver a penalty – and then all hell broke loose. Alonso revealed details of the McLaren’s use of confidential Ferrari information to the FIA, and the team were thrown out of the championship.
Hamilton had a comfortable lead in the championship with two races to go but lost it after a series of mistakes by team or driver including an unnecessary tactical gamble, a driving error and a car problem. Meanwhile Alonso was by now so unhappy with his treatment he demanded an independent FIA adjudicator be present in his garage to ensure fair play. Nothing was found, but he too was unable to keep Kimi Raikkonen from the crown.
Record: Alonso joined McLaren from Renault, where he had already won two championships. Hamilton bounced back in his second season to become the sport’s youngest ever world champion.
Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, 2010
It’s likely that even if Button hadn’t signed for McLaren we’d be looking at another all-champion line-up at McLaren, as they were also courting Raikkonen.
The first impression from readers of this site is that Button has made a major gamble by joining Hamilton’s team for 2010 – 83% believe he will get beaten next year.
History tells us these world champion pairings don’t tend to last long – two years, tops. So what sort of partnership will we see this time? Will it be one-sided but amicable, like Prost and Rosberg? Or a closely-matched fight between enemies, like Prost and Senna? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Button and Hamilton at McLaren