McLaren did not impose any orders on its drivers to hold position in their fight for the lead at the Turkish Grand Prix, the team insists, even though radio communication to Lewis Hamilton may have left him under the impression he would not be challenged for the win.
Intrigue about what messages the two drivers were getting surfaced late last week when an official race edit of the Istanbul event broadcast on Formula1.com revealed that Hamilton had been told that he could safely slow down to save fuel without needing to worry about being passed by Button.
Hamilton asked the team: "If I back off, is Jenson going to pass me or not?" McLaren's answer to him was: "No, Lewis. No."
Although the conversation has prompted conspiracy theories, the team told AUTOSPORT that the matter boils down to a simple miscommunication between the driver and the pit wall rather than a deliberate move to undermine Hamilton.
McLaren had been caught out by the high fuel consumption rate in the race, which had been caused by a contribution of factors including the lack of a safety car, a dry opening phase to the event and the fast pace of the battle between the team and rivals Red Bull Racing. Sources revealed that as early as lap 10, McLaren became aware that fuel consumption was much higher than predicted – and both Hamilton and Button were ordered to start shifting engine settings to save fuel.
Immediately after Red Bull Racing duo Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel collided on lap 40, McLaren instructed Hamilton and Button to adopt full on fuel-saving mode, which also required the drivers to take action themselves in the way they applied the throttle and changed gear. Furthermore, the team asked the drivers to start taking care through Turn 8, where high G-forces were a worry for potential problems with the right-front tire.
This was when Hamilton's broadcast conversation with the pits took place – and it appears that principal race engineer Phil Prew's comment that Button would not overtake was an opinion based on the fact both men were in full conservation mode, rather than because a specific hold position order was in place. There was no communication with Button that he should not race or challenge Hamilton, especially considering team orders being banned in F1, and the only instructions given were for him to save fuel and tires.
So, on lap 48, when Hamilton took things too easy through Turn 8 – losing three-quarters of a second in that one corner alone – Button found himself in a position to take the lead, which he did in the final sequence of corners. Hamilton, whose lap time on that tour was 2.5sec down on what he had been doing previously, retook the lead almost immediately, before both he and Button cruised home.
The miscommunication between the drivers and the pit wall would explain why Hamilton appeared slightly put out after the race, before he became aware of the real situation. Suggestions that orders to save fuel and tires were being used as codewords for the drivers to hold position have also been dismissed by team sources.
Proof of the need to slow Hamilton down came after the race, when McLaren discovered that he had less than one lap's worth left in his car, while Button had just a little more.