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.