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Monday 22nd April 2013

McLaren's Whitmarsh moves to defuse F1 row

McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh has moved swiftly to defuse a possible feud between his drivers after Jenson Button had accused team-mate Sergio Perez of dangerous driving during the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The pair clashed several times during the race won by championship leader and defending triple world champion German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.

But Whitmarsh said both the 2009 champion Briton Button, 33, and Mexican driver Perez, 23, who had been under pressure after a lacklustre start to his McLaren career, had agreed to put the issue behind them.

"I have spoken to Jenson now and the thing is he is so mature in his attitude," explained Whitmarsh.

"That is the good thing about Jenson. He can stand back and be reflective in a way that you cannot when you are hot and sticky after just stepping out of the cockpit.

"Very quickly he gets to that point where, because he is an intelligent guy, he will know that Sergio is not a bad guy."

Button, the most experienced driver in the sport, was left fuming after Sunday's race at the aggressive manner in which Perez had attacked him to challenge for positions, banging wheels and making contact.

He made this clear over the McLaren team radio. "He's just hit me again, at the back," called Button once. "Come on, guys, sort him out."

The team decided, however, during the race, that there was no need to issue orders to Perez to back down.

Afterwards both drivers gave their own differing views of the incidents, with Perez claiming Button had been just as aggressive to him.

But Whitmarsh pointed out that Perez's approach had been a result of the extra pressure he was under since joining the team.

"Jenson knows his team-mate has been under the hammer," he said. "Perez is young, he has had a bit of pressure, he has something to learn and he had a point to prove.

"He was just a guy under pressure who possibly pushed a little bit too hard on some of those issues, but that is human.

"They are easy guys to manage because they are really good people and there is a good spirit between all parts of the team.

"We are racers and each half of the garage wants to beat the other half but I think it is a good dynamic."

Button finished a bruised 10th and Perez a sizzling sixth on a day when Vettel was in masterly form, driving as if he was the only man with any control of his tyres and his own destiny.

Vettel blitzed to his second victory of the season, with a three-stop strategy and fastest lap, leaving the two Lotuses of Finn Kimi Raikkonen and Frenchman Romain Grosjean gasping in his wake, despite adopting a two-stop strategy, as the trio repeated the 2012 podium.

But the race overall was marred by high levels of tyre wear through the field, several punctures including two that wrecked the hopes of Brazilian Felipe Massa of Ferrari, a DRS failure on his Ferrari team-mate Spaniard Fernando Alonso's car and various other complaints about debris, dust and heat.

All of this contrived to deliver a contest that provided incident-filled entertainment for a sparse crowd at the Bahrain International Circuit but no clear sporting contest, as rivals swapped positions so frequently it sometimes seemed more like a form of advanced stock car racing.

Vettel's win, the 28th of his career, lifted him one ahead of three-times champion Briton Jackie Stewart in the record books and to 77 points in this year's title race.

He leads 2007 champion Raikkonen by 10 with Briton Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion, third on 50 after finishing a fighting fifth for Mercedes.

Hamilton has now scored more points this year for his new team than seven-time champion Michael Schumacher did in the whole of 2012.

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