McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh admits the team is thrilled to be pairing the last two world champions together in its 2010 line-up – but insists that Jenson Button’s decision to join the team was not motivated by money.
After weeks of frenzied speculation about where the 2009 title winner would be driving next season, McLaren confirmed on Wednesday that it had secured the services of Button to create the first ever line-up of successive world champions.
Whitmarsh believes the Hamilton/Button combination will represent the strongest on next season’s grid and is confident the team will be able to successfully manage both driver’s personalities and driving styles, the team having famously experienced problems in 2007 when it paired Fernando Alonso with a then rookie Hamilton.
“Everybody at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is absolutely delighted to be able to welcome Jenson to our team,” he said in a statement.
“It has always been our policy to employ the two very best possible drivers – and, in Jenson and Lewis, we feel we not only have the fastest pairing on the 2010 grid, but also the two most complete, professional and dedicated drivers in Formula 1.
“Moreover, I’m confident that we’ll be able to successfully balance and harness Jenson’s and Lewis’s complementary skill-sets.
“Our engineers are already looking forward to working with Jenson, and I’m convinced that such a strong and dynamic driver line-up will make us an even more complete and competitive operation. Now we have to provide Jenson and Lewis with race-winning machinery.”
He added: “We’re ambitious, we’re motivated and we’re hungrier than ever.
“We make no secret of our ambition for next year: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes wants to win both World Championships – and, with Jenson and Lewis, we believe we’re better equipped than any other team in the pitlane to do exactly that.”
Although it initially appeared likely that Button would agree a new contract with Brawn in the wake of his maiden title success last month, their negotiations became protracted with the Button camp unhappy with the scale of the pay rise being offered by the Brackley team.
Media reports on Tuesday suggested Button had agreed a retainer of £6m a year to switch to Woking, around £3m more than the Briton received this year after voluntarily taking a pay cut to stay on at the Brawn team following Honda’s F1 pull-out.
Whitmarsh, however, said the money McLaren is paying its new signing is in line with what was on offer elsewhere on the grid, something which he says reflects well on Button.
“I want to make clear that Jenson’s decision to join us was in no way motivated by money,” Whitmarsh said.
“We’ll be paying him no more than he could be getting elsewhere, and that fact is a reflection of not only Jenson’s belief in Vodafone McLaren Mercedes but also his desire and ambition to build on the phenomenal results he achieved during the 2009 season.”
Whitmarsh also paid tribute to the outgoing Heikki Kovalainen and says all the team hopes he secures the best available drive for 2010.
“I also want to thank Heikki for his selfless contribution over the past two years,” he added.
“As well as being very quick, Heikki was and remains a great character whom we’ll all miss considerably.
“It goes without saying that we wish him all the best for next season, and would be very pleased if he were to secure a good drive for 2010.”