The two McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were quite a double act today at the launch of the new McLaren MP4/25. Hamilton welcomed his new team mate warmly, even suggesting that Button would get priority treatment in the event that the team could only produce one new piece of equipment for a race.
In contrast to Ferrari and Mercedes, where there are obvious competitive tensions, the McLaren drivers are keen to appear well and truly loved up. It was obvious from the start of the presentation today.
Hamilton spoke of how he had always looked up to Button and had followed his footsteps out of karting and into F1. He mentioned that he used engines prepared by John Button to win a championship. He went out of his way to warmly welcome Button to the team. An in an interview with some of the UK national papers later on in the day, he claimed that it had been him who suggested Button would be a good replacement for Heikki Kovalainen.
Hamilton said that he had put a lot of work into the development of the new car and felt “that it should handle better than last year’s”
“I hope so” quipped Button.
Later on when he spoke about drivers getting priority over equipment Hamilton said he had got the latest equipment one one occasion because “I had number one on the car. If that is the case, which I think is unlikely this year, Jenson is number one so he will surely get it first and I’ll get it next time.”
On another occasion, Button was asked about his position in the team given that he is “paid less” than Hamilton. Hamilton stepped in and asked for the reporter to show some respect, “I don’t think any of you should forget that he is the world champion and you shouldn’t believe everything you read,” he said.
Button is quite capable of looking after himself and he seemed very calm and confident today. He said that having won the championship he is feeling “more confident as a person” and feels he has nothing to prove to himself or to others. “I’m happy with my life,” he said.
This is not Senna vs Prost, the last time McLaren had two world champions in its team. The impression given today is that the two are quite calm in each other’s company and it’s hard to foresee any competitive tensions or political battles between them.
Looking to the season ahead, Button said that “there are a lot of talented people in F1″ and suggested that “this could be the most exciting season ever in Formula 1″ He added, “I’m the most excited it’ve ever been coming into a season. It’s a massive challenge for me and one i”m really looking forward to.”
Hamilton was asked about finally having the chance to race against Michael Schumacher, “I’ve always said I wanted to race Ayrton, ” he said. “But while growing up and racing I thought I’d have a chance to race Michael. Then he retired. It was such a pleasure to be on the track with him in testing. To see him on the grid with me is going to be a great experience.”
There were many questions about the perils of having two champions in a team, where Mercedes might be set up to get Schumacher to the title. This, it was suggested, could lead to a repeat of 2007 when Alonso and Hamilton were so focussed on beating each other they let Raikkonen through to win the title.
Having recently left the team which is now Mercedes, Button said Mercedes would not be based solely around Schumacher, “I don’t think any driver on the grid would settle for being a number two driver so I don’s see it happening,” he said. “They (Mercedes) will be strong, we were world champions last year so they will be competitive.”