Publicly revealing information about who the lead driver is within a Formula One team is not commonly done. The status of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel as team leading number one drivers is widely assumed, although never mentioned by themselves or the teams, instead left cloaked in secrecy. However, when a driver such as Nico Hulkenberg joins a new team to be partnered by a very inexperienced rookie, a leadership role is inevitable. Sauber Team Principal, Monisha Kaltenborn made it clear what was what was expected of Nico after he joined the team for the 2013 season. Talking to Brazil’s Total sport in December, she said,
“Of course we hope Nico, who is very good in certain areas, takes a lead in certain areas such as with (car) development and the relationship with the engineers.”
|Monisha Kaltenborn with her drivers. Photo: Motorsport.com|
Similarly, the flight of Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes cleared the way for Jenson Button to take the lead at McLaren as he was joined by relatively inexperienced Sergio Perez, who was starting life with his new team on the back of a poor run of form. Again, no secret was made about his assuming a lead role. Speaking to ITN Jenson revealed,
“I really enjoy being the lead driver and being the guy who can really help the team improve the car and sort of mould the car around me.”
|Martin Whitmarsh with his drivers. Photo: www.sportinglife.com|
It has been a rocky start for Esteban Gutierrez; colliding with Adrian Sutil and blocking Kimi Raikkonen during qualifying for Spain has introduced him to the world of driver penalties. Being relegated to nineteenth on the grid for the Spanish Grand Prix as a result of the latter incident, it looked like the erroneous start to his Formula One career was set to continue. Under pressure from himself and the team, the young Mexican proved he can have a strong race finishing eleventh, just 0.3 seconds off claiming his first World Championship point. Hulkenberg finished in fifteenth. Although the German’s running was hindered by the stop go penalty issued after an unsafe release in the pit lane, Gutierrez was leading his team mate by three positions just prior to this incident. Although not particularly inspiring, the Sauber rookie has bequeathed a glimpse of a strength and maturity that previously appeared lacking.
Initially leading the way in a faltering McLaren, Jenson Button started the season confirming his capacity for leadership with number one driver prestige thrown in, out qualifying Sergio Perez for the first four races, and finishing above him in Australia and China. In Bahrain however, responding to a request for livelier racing from Team Principal, Martin Whitmarsh, Perez revealed his thoughts on the matter, tussling with his team mate for position. With the battle between them teetering on the edge of disaster for the team, Jenson could be heard over team radio telling the team to “calm him down”, rather condescendingly, as if training a puppy. The spirited contest from Checo seemed to surprise him, causing him to stamp his authority within the team.
Continuing his improved form in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, Sergio Perez pushed though into Q3, leaving team leader Jenson Button languishing in fourteenth. In the race, the Briton put in a great performance to finish eighth having fallen back to seventeenth as the red lights were extinguished. Running just in front of Perez in the closing stages of the race in Barcelona, an echo of events in Bahrain threatened until the Mexican received the order not to challenge.
Team leaders Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg are still just about keeping their performances worthy of lead driver merit, but with hungry young adversaries gaining fast, they should be keeping an eye in those rear view mirrors.