Lewis Hamilton has revealed that he is pleased that British Formula One rival Jenson Button has the chance to compete at the front of the field again this season, despite fearing that his career in the top flight may have been over as recently as a month ago.
While world champion Hamilton has floundered somewhat in testing as McLaren struggles to get its 2009-spec car up to speed with the new technical regulations, Button and the Brawn GP team have flown out of the traps. Emerging from the ashes of the Honda team, the Brackley outfit has benefited from ongoing work on its 2009 machine, and blitzed the final two tests of pre-season with its Mercedes-powered BGP001 pushing both Button and team-mate Rubens Barrichello to the head of the times.
While acknowledging that pre-season testing can often provide an inaccurate guide to true form - indeed, the similarly-powered McLaren team has already been accused of 'sandbagging' by Bernie Ecclestone - Hamilton insists that he is happy to see Brawn both on the grid and running strongly.
"It's great to see Brawn GP do so well, and I am really pleased for Jenson and Rubens and all the men and women who work in their team," he told journalists ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, "They must have had a very difficult time over the winter, but it's great to see them come through and with what is looking like a great car. Jenson and Rubens deserve that because they are great drivers."
While appearing magnanimous towards the rival he replaced in the hearts and minds of British fans, however, Hamilton makes no secret of the fact that he does not intend to allow Button to steal his limelight for too long.
"If I'm not able to start the Australian Grand Prix from the front of the grid, I'll still race my heart out," he insisted, "At the moment, this year's car is a little behind the rest in terms of development, but I'm absolutely confident we will get stronger and grow as the year progresses. I have complete faith in the team and I'll do my bit too."
The setback, which saw McLaren run with 2008-spec aerodynamics for a while as it attempted to sort its problems, has done little to dent Hamilton's motivation for the coming campaign, and he maintains that his success last season will not sap his energy for the job as it appeared to do to predecessor Kimi Raikkonen.
"I've got to be mindful of the fact that you can't do it all the time," he said of winning the world title, "Some people win one, some win two or three. I don't know how many I will win, but I know that I'm just as determined as ever."