Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton has revealed that he anticipates an 'exciting' season ahead in F1 2010 following ex team-mate Fernando Alonso's switch from Renault to Ferrari and the likely arrival of fellow former title-winner Kimi Raikkonen alongside him at McLaren-Mercedes.

Such a scenario would place arguably the three best drivers in the current field in what should on paper be the two best teams, and whilst it has been reported that Hamilton is against the idea of Raikkonen becoming his team-mate - allegedly being keener to retain F1's 'other' Finn Heikki Kovalainen in the neighbouring garage - the Briton has professed himself open to the idea and eager to duel it out on-track with the two men who between them have claimed three of the last four titles at the highest level.

"People say it will be total war between me and Fernando, but that's not the case," the 24-year-old McLaren-Mercedes star is quoted as having said by The Guardian. "He's a former world champion and I have a huge amount of respect for him. We get on very well. He will be very strong at Ferrari, and we've got to make sure we do everything to beat him. We've got our work cut out; we've got to do a solid job with our car.

"I'm looking forward to it, though. It sounds like it could be an exciting year, and back to the old days that I remember. I grew up watching Kimi and Fernando at the front, along with [Michael] Schumacher, and I see those guys as the greats - so being able to compete with Raikkonen and Alonso and to have [Felipe] Massa in there as well, it's going to be a close, close battle. As drivers, we always want to be racing against the best, and you always want to be ahead and be better."

The eleven-time grand prix-winner also had words of advice for his compatriot Jenson Button, who potentially stands on the precipice of following in Hamilton's wheel tracks and clinching world championship glory in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka this weekend - provided he out-scores Brawn GP team-mate Rubens Barrichello by five points or more, a feat he has not proven capable of achieving since the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul almost four months ago, the 29-year-old's most recent victory in the top flight.

Button enters the final three outings of the campaign holding an ostensibly comfortable 15-point margin over Barrichello in the drivers' standings, but Hamilton well knows that his own experience - surrendering a 17-point lead with two races left to run in 2007 to end up missing out on the laurels by a single marker, after skating helplessly into the gravel trap in the Shanghai pit-lane due to staying out too long on worn tyres and then suffering electrical gremlins in the Interlagos finale - is a cursory lesson never to take anything for granted until the title is firmly in the bag.

"This experience for Jenson, if and when he does it, will be great for him," the Stevenage-born ace and Singapore Grand Prix winner told the Daily Telegraph. "It is character-building. In hindsight, I was so quick that weekend (in China, 2007); I just needed to finish where I was, but I don't look back and think I messed it up. It would have been nicer to have come in a bit earlier and I would have been a two-time world champion, [but] I still had a great year.

"We (he and Button) get on really well and have great respect for each other; I have my fingers crossed for him. I know he has a huge amount of support back home, and it's the same for me. It is going to be great for Britain, for England. It will be another step in his life and a proud moment for him and his family, and I can only wish him all the best. To finish number one is the best thing that can ever really happen - but I look forward to challenging him next year and taking it back.

"I was so happy [in Singapore], because I just love winning - now I really hope to be able to challenge for more wins in the next three races. I'm very satisfied, because we could easily have had a year where we'd been at the back the whole time. For me, that wouldn't have felt great at all because I was world champion last year and I know I'm good enough to be at the front - to go straight to the back would have been difficult for a lot of people to understand, and my achievements would have been under question.

"It feels like I've been waiting my whole life to race at Suzuka, so as you can imagine, I'm really excited. Ever since I was a kid, I've raced Suzuka on computer games, and while it kind of gives you an idea of how the circuit goes, nothing can beat the real thing. It's a real drivers' circuit, and I am glad that I am back at the front now. I am showing that the No. 1 was well-earned. It was on my car for a reason, and it is a positive feeling to be able to do that."

Alonso, meanwhile, has been further eulogising about his future in scarlet - which the Spaniard has confessed is a 'dream come true' for him - and explaining how, at 28 now and older and wiser than when he first entered the top flight with Minardi back in 2001, he has become a better driver for all of the trials and tribulations he has encountered along the way.

"I have learnt how to lose," mused the Oviedo native, "because with age you learn to know the world better, the whims of destiny and the sport itself. It is impossible to have a victory every time that you go on the track or to do it year-on-year - that is a simple rule of life - but there are moments when you are ready to win, and you should take advantage of those moments.

"[I also believe] things should be said face-to-face, always. When they are good things, fantastic, and when they are bad things, they are said face-to-face to improve and never to criticise. The only thing that you can do is to give all you can and try to improve as quickly as possible.

"All I know is that I can take 100 per cent performance of any car that you give me. I don't follow statistics, but when I retire I will reflect back and think about how well I did in this sport. When I see that I'm at the same level as the greatest names in motorsport, all these legends, I will be very proud.

"Hopefully I can give to Ferrari the maximum performance in the car, from a driving point-of-view. Outside of the car I can be part of the team, be as professional as possible and try and help the team produce the best car and give the best performance. Winning a championship is something special, and winning with Ferrari would be even more special."

"There has been talk of him going there for the past two years, but it never came to anything," pondered Barrichello, a former Ferrari driver himself, of what he sees as a match made in heaven. "For me, it came as a surprise when it was finally announced this early, especially when they had a contract with Kimi. When I say it's love, Fernando has been wanting to go there for a long time, and Ferrari feel the same. When it's like that, it will gel very easily.

"Fernando is a top-class driver, on the same level as Michael Schumacher. I just hope that my friend Felipe Massa can hold onto him, because I think he's going to be the guy to beat. Felipe is very fast and they are going to have equal terms - which is not something [we] all had the pleasure of..."


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