Jenson Button can take the fight to Lewis Hamilton in F1 2010 and even get the better of his new McLaren-Mercedes team-mate, reckons Anthony Davidson – provided
he gets sufficient seat time under his belt prior to the start of the campaign in order to adapt the car to his liking.
Many have opined that in jumping ship from Brawn GP – with whom he sensationally lifted the 2009 F1 World Championship laurels – to join a team that has supported Hamilton for more than a decade and where the Stevenage-born ace is widely-considered to be the favourite son, Button is entering the lion's den and will get eaten alive for his foolhardy bravado.
As someone who knows the seven-time grand prix-winner better than most from his years spent on the test and reserve bench at BAR, Honda and Brawn – even including a race as team-mates, when he replaced the unwell Takuma Sato for the 2005 Malaysian Grand Prix – Davidson begs to differ, and suggests that the only potential stumbling-block for Button faced with Hamilton is if he fails to immediately gel with the car.
Generally regarded as a competitor who is on top of his game when he feels comfortable in the cockpit but one far less capable of driving around a car's deficiencies when the need arises, the relationship between Button and McLaren's MP4-25 will likely be critical. Should it be a harmonious one, though, contends Davidson, his compatriot's smooth driving style and superior tyre management in a new era of no refuelling could just give him the edge over Hamilton, who is renowned for showing his own tyres little mercy.
“He can cope with Lewis,” the former Super Aguri F1 star insisted in an interview with Crash.net Radio
. “It's whether he can get to grips with the car with only six tests under his belt before Bahrain. That's the real issue, and whether the car suits his style. We've all seen he's got quite a narrow window of optimum performance in his style, and if the car suits that style he'll be a really serious threat to Lewis and will probably be able to match him in race trim. I think he's going to do an extremely good job and won't get demoralised by it at all.
“One of Jenson's biggest strengths is race pace, looking after the tyres – and that's going to be paramount next year. It won't be a complete walkover unless he just doesn't get on with the car, like we've seen with [Giancarlo] Fisichella in the Ferrari for instance. You know the guy's good, but it just didn't work for him in the car – and if Jenson finds himself in that situation with McLaren, then he'll look worse than he really is. I know the true skill and the passion that Jenson's got behind the wheel, and he deserves to be quick as he proved this year – but when the car doesn't suit his style, he struggles sometimes.”
As to more general predictions for F1 2010, Davidson concurs with commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone's belief that it is shaping up to be a 'jaw-dropping' season [see separate story – click here
], but one with many questions still to be answered. And as to the eagerly-anticipated face-off between McLaren and Mercedes Grand Prix, he suggests experience and continuity could well be the deciding factors.
“I think McLaren are going to be back,” asserted the 30-year-old. “They've got the engine to do it with the Mercedes, so there's no reason why they won't be fast. It's just about who is going to do the better job. Is Red Bull still going to be up there? And what about the new Mercedes team? Who knows, but I think McLaren will have a fast car.”
TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE