First it was former team-mate Fernando Alonso, and now it is current team-mate Jenson Button who is feeling the psychological pressure being applied by Lewis Hamilton – as the 2008 title-winner insists that far from being regarded as the F1 World Champion any more entering the 2010 campaign, he is merely the 'number two'...
Last week, Hamilton began the pre-season mind games by reminding Alonso that he 'blew him away' when the pair were teamed up together at McLaren-Mercedes in 2007 [see separate story – click here
] – a year in which the Briton was the untried rookie and the Spaniard the sport's reigning double world champion – and now it seems he has begun work on his new driving partner Button, who similarly arrives at Woking with a title to defend.
Some have suggested that in pitting himself against his countryman on Hamilton's 'home' turf – having been firmly ensconced at McLaren ever since he was a nine-year-old karter back in 1996 – Button is entering the lion's den and will be eaten alive for his foolhardy bravado and over-confidence, but the Stevenage-born ace refutes any such notions that he is already the team's de facto
number one, and argues that if anything, it is the newcomer who should start with the advantage.
“At the moment we've not worked together yet,” Hamilton revealed in an interview with ITN
. “He's only just started to work with the team; I've been away training and he's been away training, so we don't actually start working together until the end of January. In the next couple of weeks we'll meet up and start the partnership – because we're going to be working together for a few years now – and I'm very much looking forward to it.
“He's got a huge amount of experience in Formula 1, so hopefully I'll learn a lot from him and vice-versa. Obviously we both want to win, but hopefully by going in the same direction with the same goal we'll be able to help the team move forward and get some good success. With the new car, hopefully we'll be able to compete at the front. For British sport especially and for British fans it's great, and myself and Jenson will continue to push as hard as we can to be the best we can possibly be and try to keep it (the world championship) British.
“Jenson and I have generally had quite a good relationship at the track. We've both been in a similar situation in the world championship, me in 2008 and him in 2009. We come from similar backgrounds, and we have actually known each other for many, many years, so I don't think there will be any problems.
“I think it's a level playing field; we're very much equal and heading into the year as a fresh start. Clearly I've been in the team a little bit longer than he has, but both I and the team have been very welcoming towards him and have tried to make him feel as comfortable as possible. The team is working very hard to help him get up-to-speed as fast as he possibly can, but then he's the world champion. I'm not the world champion – I'm just the number two driver...”
In truth, it is doubtful that Hamilton has ever been a genuine 'number two' driver at any time during his career to-date, and he will clearly be one of the hot favourites to clinch the crown right from the word 'go' in F1 2010. Explaining that he is keen to see the fruit of his testing and development efforts when the Mercedes-powered MP4-25 finally hits the track at Valencia early next month, the 25-year-old added that he is particularly eager to see how he compares against the legendary Michael Schumacher upon the seven-time world champion's return to the fray following a three-year absence from top flight competition.
“I've had a very close eye on the car since it started development back in September or so, and I've had a huge amount of input into it,” resumed the eleven-time grand prix-winner. “Every year I seem to have more-and-more input into the car. Last year I actually didn't have that much [pre-season] input into it thank goodness, but through the year I obviously had a lot of input into it and it got better and better. With this one, I was at the factory quite a lot; obviously I'm not an engineer, but I was giving them direction regarding where I felt the car was meant to be going. I'm very excited to see the end result and to get in the car at the first test and see how it feels.
“I've got no nerves. I've been here for quite a while now – it's crazy to think that it's my fourth year already – and I am very excited about this season; I think it could be one of the most exciting seasons in Formula 1 yet, especially with having Michael Schumacher back, the world champion sitting next to me as my team-mate, Felipe Massa back, Fernando Alonso at Ferrari – there's a really good combination of drivers and teams, and I would say the best drivers are in the best teams. The competition this year should be the most exciting yet.
“When it was announced that I was going to be in Formula 1 at the end of 2006 I was excited to be racing against (Schumacher), and obviously he then didn't. I saw him for a couple of tests and I was on the track at the same time as him, but he went on his retirement and that was very sad for me. I'm really, really happy to see him back; I think it's great for the sport, great for the fans and all us drivers are very much huge fans of what he's achieved, so to be in the same race as him and be on the grid with him is going to be a great experience. He's nowhere near too old, he doesn't look like he's lost his fitness – his physical shape is very much the same – and his passion for the sport has clearly been the same. He just stepped aside for a while, but he was at a lot of the races over the last couple of years, so I think he'll blend in fine.”