Jenson or Lewis: Who is going to win hearts and minds at McLaren?

March 30, 2010

So will Lewis get the whole of McLaren behind him in 2010?

I had predicted that Jenson was going to have a tough time at Lewis’s team – McLaren – in 2010, but the way that the Australian Grand Prix unfolded suggests it could work out differently. Jenson’s emphatic win at Melbourne made him the first McLaren winner of 2010, so one up on Lewis from that point of view. But the really interesting bit is the way in which Lewis reacted to finding himself on a different strategy and a long way back from Jenson.

Great drivers, like great leaders, need a surplus of self-confidence, something which is rarely in short supply in F1. But the other thing that great drivers (and leaders) have is the ability to get the whole team behind them, think of Jim Clark at Lotus, Jackie Stewart at Tyrrell, Ayrton Senna at McLaren and Michael Schumacher at Ferrari where you see the driver becoming a strong symbol of unity and commitment for the entire team. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Ross Brawn a number of times and the one thing that was paramount for Ross, in whatever team he was running, was that you had the difficult conversations in private, a driver who comes out and publicly criticises the team is effectively drawing a very clear line between themselves and the rest of the team. In this situation the driver’s self-belief potentially becomes a barrier to success, rather than an enabler of even higher performance. At its worst this self-belief becomes a paranoia that the team are actually conspiring to stop the driver winning races, such a situation can never deliver long term success.

If you look at the transcript of Lewis’s comments issued by McLaren they tell an interesting story:  “…I’m happy with the job I did – I drove my heart out today and the car felt good. Could Jenson and I have had a one-two today? Maybe, yes, but you can’t say for sure. One thing I can say for sure, though, is that he drove a great race. Congratulations to him for an excellent first win for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes – it’s a good feeling! As for me, I’ll just keep fighting. It’s the only way I know.” The first few words ‘I’m happy with the job I did’ seem to underline the ‘I’ – what about the job ‘we’ did? He also talks about the first win for ‘Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’, it almost sounds like he’s talking about someone else’s team, perhaps he is doing the usual bit of getting the sponsors names out there, but there’s no mention of ‘we’ or ‘us’.

Let’s contrast this with the first part of Jenson’s statement: What a fantastic weekend! From the first lap here, I felt comfortable in the car. Qualifying was good – we weren’t on the pace of the front guys, we were five or six tenths off – but our race pace was better. And in these tricky conditions, I think we made some very good calls and we came away with a victory. You might say we were lucky in some ways, but I think we just made the right calls – and that’s so important nowadays. It’s not just about speed, it’s about making the right calls, being consistent and conserving the car.” Well, plenty of ‘we’s’ and ‘ours’ in there.

The key thing of course is not whether you or I believe Lewis is more focused on himself and his image than that of his team, but whether the team believe it, that is what will make all the difference. Of course the driver is important, but as Schumacher recognized at Ferrari, it’s the team behind you that often creates championship winning performance. The pitstop crew will squeeze those extra tenths, the mechanics will take just that extra bit of care when rebuilding your car, the designers will be thinking about small changes that help your driving style, everyone will be behind you every lap of the race, and that can make all the difference. It will be fascinating to see who is going to win hearts and minds at McLaren – Jenson or Lewis?

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One Response to “Jenson or Lewis: Who is going to win hearts and minds at McLaren?”

  1. thepak Says:

    Prof,

    It seems clear from the past two Australian GPs that Hamilton, despite being a former world champion, still has a lot to learn about not just being a good teammate, but a responsible adult. After the ignominy of last year’s “Liegate,” Hamilton stated he learned a great deal from last year, and that he was looking forward to making a strong showing this year at Albert Park. But after his traffic stop Friday night, his poor qualifying effort, and finally his juvenile rant against his own team after the race, one has to wonder if the departure of his father as his manager and mentor was a misstep on Lewis’ part. He certainly did have a strong showing on Sunday, but I think in the end he damaged his reputation more so than enhancing it.


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