F1’s only Indian driver says he is having to damp down unrealistic hopes at home.
|Button and Hamilton share pre-season laughs ahead of what is set to be a tense partnership [EPA]|
In a season shaping up to be one of the most intriguing in years, Formula One champion Jenson Button’s move to McLaren could be the one to fuel drama on and off the track.
Button joins fellow Briton and deposed champ Lewis Hamilton at a team that has nurtured the 2008 title-holder since he was a 13-year-old.
That special relationship between Hamilton and McLaren saw another former world champion, Fernando Alonso, left out in the cold during his one season with the British constructors in 2007.
Button, 30, left the victorious Brawn GP in November after seven years with the former Honda group just before it was taken over by Mercedes, which is investing in an F1 team for the first time in 55 years.
His new teammate and the crew backing them up in the garage have been quick to face up to the reality that, despite the pre-season smiles, there are likely to be scowls exchanged at some point between Bahrain this weekend and Abu Dhabi at the end of the year.
Hamilton’s influence inside the team led Alonso, who joined immediately after winning a second straight championship in 2006, to leave after just one season due to supposed favouritism.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh, who regrets how the team treated Alonso, said the new rivalry will help the team’s drive for the title.
“Jenson and Lewis in harmony at McLaren isn’t a headline we’re likely to read,” Whitmarsh told the BBC.
“We’ll do our best to do everything as fairly as we can with the two drivers.
“I have a confidence in my ability and my confidence in building a good team around me, but before you’re racing someone in the team it’s very difficult to know where you stand”
Jenson Button, Formula One world champion
“There is all kind of speculation about this is a Hamilton team – Lewis knows we want a fair fight.
“We will be fair and treat these guys equitably.”
Last season, Button won six of the first seven races and then hung on to win the championship over Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel – while retaining a sometimes strained professional friendship with teammate and third-placed challenger Rubens Barrichello.
“Jenson knew exactly what he was letting himself in for,” Whitmarsh said of his all-British lineup.
“So far he hasn’t regretted it. We will see as the season unfolds which of our drivers feels most uncomfortable – inevitably they will.
“One of them has to feel uncomfortable if he’s being beaten by the other.”
Hamilton was fifth after a mixed season with McLaren, but preseason testing has shown that the British team is one of the favourites going into a field where Alonso has been reinvigorated by a move to Ferrari and seven-time champion Michael Schumacher returns to take Button’s place.
|Schumacher’s return to Formula One will keep the youngsters on their toes [AFP]|
Despite the competition on the grid, it’s the in-house threat that seems most dangerous.
The 25-year-old Hamilton said his working relationship with Button was good, but the youngest-ever F1 champion did not mince words when it came to getting back into the title fight.
“I’m happy to put my hands up and say when I’ve been beaten, and I have lost a race to a teammate, but not a championship,” said Hamilton, who also admitted to errors in handling Alonso’s stay at the team.
“At some stage it could happen, but I will just do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t.”
Button said he was well aware that he was entering the unknown.
“I have a confidence in my ability and my confidence in building a good team around me,” he said.
“But you never know until you’re racing someone in the team. It’s very difficult to know where you stand.”