The subtle art of joining a new team

When Lewis Hamilton moves to Mercedes he should ask Jenson Button about the best way to fit in

suzuka

"You know, Mr Button, that the chances of Jenson making Formula One are very small?"

"Yes," John Button nodded.

"And you do know that he can charm the birds off the trees, don't you?"

The headmistress at the young karter's junior school was one of the first people to appreciate Jenson Button's urbanity, but certainly not the last. His ability to blend in, to smooth his path through life with charm and a commendable outward lack of aggression, have been the hallmarks of a career that took him not just to Formula One but to the World Championship in 2009, and thence to McLaren for the 2010 season.

At the time his bold decision to leave the title-winning Brawn team to go into the lair of Lewis Hamilton, and to take on head to head the fastest man in the game, was seen by many as career suicide. Rather like Hamilton's recent decision to leave the team who have nurtured him since he was a teenager for one who have only won one race in three seasons.

If Button was minded to, and if Hamilton was inclined to listen, the older Briton could give him some valuable advice on how to fit into a new milieu.

Remember what it was like when you were the new kid at school? Well, throw in the pressures associated with competition, plus the imperatives of performance and financial expectations, and you begin to see why it is never the work of a moment to integrate yourself into a new team. Especially when the first person you have to beat is your own team-mate.

"I knew, going against Lewis at McLaren, that I needed to cram a process that normally takes two years into something like two weeks," said Button.

A race team is a driver's sanctuary. The highest level in Formula One, that rare stratum occupied by the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull, is a massive commercial enterprise predicated on success and, specifically, winning. It is not a place for the faint-hearted; wallflowers need not apply.

When the drivers get out on track it is every man for himself, but before and after that it is very much a team effort. And that means establishing relationships, not just with a team's management but with the others in the team, the engineers and mechanics, the people who actually screw the cars together back at the factory, the public-relations staff, even the hospitality hosts who look after everyone on race weekends.

The management expect a big bang for their bucks and don't appreciate people who take time to get up to speed, literally and metaphorically. They want results.

The engineers are massively intelligent people who don't want somebody who can't realise on track the performance gains they spend their waking hours developing.

The mechanics never take prisoners; they don't like drivers who are slow or crash, and are quick to apply condemnatory soubriquets. One promising racer, now a winner, got saddled with the nickname Britney for his habit of flicking back his flaxen locks.

Button invested time meeting everyone at McLaren as he immersed himself in a very different culture to that in which he had thrived at Brawn. McLaren's Sir Norman Foster-designed headquarters at Woking is a metaphor for the struggle that takes place within; much of it is underground, where that fierce and relentless effort goes unseen by the outside world. Button put in the time, using the charm that his head- mistress had identified so many years earlier. He made friends and he influenced people.

And it helped that he won second time out, in Australia.

Back in 1989 Nigel Mansell had made Ferrari fall in love with him by taking a surprising victory first time out in Brazil; in 2007 and 2010 Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso likewise got their Scuderia careers off to a great start with similarly tifosi-pleasing performances.

But Mansell's relationship curdled with the arrival of Alain Prost a year later, and Raikkonen's lack of commitment in the years after his title-winning season saw him shown the door prematurely.

It's a tightrope act, forging those relationships and doing the job out on the track, especially when you are having to learn a new culture and the workings of a new car and new people. "It always helped me that McLaren listened to me right from the start," Button says. "I was always made to feel part of the team. But it still took time before I felt truly at home."

When Hamilton came into Formula One in 2007 and so spectacularly upstaged the established star, Fernando Alonso, who himself was finding his feet in a new environment, the Briton enjoyed the benefit of growing up with the McLaren team. Now he must contemplate being the new boy at Mercedes, and establishing new working relationships that will enable him to maximise his talents.

Nobody has ever summarised the pressures of racing better than the hydroplane team owner Lee Schoenith when his legendary driver, Bill Muncey, concerned about the boat they would race the following year, asked him: "Will you still love me when I'm not winning?"

"Sure," Schoenith replied. "But I'll miss you."

Yesterday's qualifying

Sebastian Vettel's dominant pole position hung in the balance for two hours after qualifying yesterday as stewards deliberated about whether the German had impeded his title rival Fernando Alonso. Red Bull had dominated the opposition as Vettel and Mark Webber wrapped up the front row of the grid, and eventually the world champion was let off with a reprimand.

"It was a very smooth session, almost perfect," Vettel said before the investigation. "The car seemed to get better every time we went out."

Jenson Button's McLaren was a breathless third, but he drops to eighth on the grid due to a five-place penalty imposed because of a gearbox change, while team-mate Lewis Hamilton was only ninth.

Hamilton admitted: "I made a big mistake with the set-up. I had masses of understeer, then oversteer, so we went back to yesterday's set-up but it was a disaster."

Button, however, was philosophical about his grid place. "The grid penalty hurts a bit," he admitted. "Both of my Q3 laps were good, but we just weren't quick enough. I don't know where to find the missing four-tenths [of a second]. It's going to be very difficult for me tomorrow from eighth, but it'll be a race about tyre degradation and conservation, so never say never."

David Tremayne

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform