Despite suggestions to the contrary, reigning world champion Jenson Button has insisted that he will be '100 per cent' on an 'equal footing' with McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in F1 2010 - as he bids to join the 30 per cent minority amongst sportsmen to successfully defend their world titles.

Many have opined that in electing to leave the safe, familiar surroundings of Brawn GP - now Mercedes Grand Prix, and the outfit with which he lifted the 2009 laurels - to join a team that Hamilton has all-but made his own since first being snapped up as a nine-year-old karter back in the mid-1990s, Button is entering the lion's den and as such should prepare to be devoured for his foolhardy bravado. Not only is the Stevenage-born ace one of the outright fastest drivers on the grid, the argument goes, but more importantly still he practically is McLaren.

However, having affirmed that he has settled in well to his new team [see separate story - click here], Button has now vowed to do all that he can to work with his compatriot and title-winning predecessor to make the MP4-25 as good as it can possibly be before pre-season testing gets underway in earnest at the beginning of next month .

That way, he explains, he hopes to be able to hit the ground running when the campaign gets into gear with the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir in mid-March, reasoning that strong early form - as was proved last year, with a stunning run of six victories from the opening seven outings - is often absolutely pivotal to the ultimate destiny of the crown.

"I want to get straight into it to get the best result I can with the new car," the newly clean-shaven 30-year-old told British newspaper The Sun, confessing that before signing he had asked the question of McLaren management, 'Is this Lewis' team?' "Over the last few years, the driver who has won the first race has gone on to win the championship. You can get some really big points in the first races when other people are making mistakes or are not ready for every scenario.

"There's a lot of work to do before we even think of stepping into the car. That's what I am going to do now, so that I am 100 per cent ready when we get to Bahrain. I don't want any excuses.

"I wouldn't have signed if I didn't feel I had equal footing with Lewis. I feel I have that 100 per cent, and it's great. When you've won the world championship, you don't expect to move into a team and be number two or not get the same equipment.

"I'm really happy with the way things are going, and I'm looking forward to spending some time with Lewis over the next few days. We'll have an in-depth chat and it should be fun. Hopefully we can chew the fat about the new car and discuss where we go from here, because to be competitive and to fight for the world championship it needs to be a big team effort and we really have to pull together. Lewis knows that.

"Hopefully we will have a close relationship and share as much information as possible. It has always been that way for me, and I think it has for Lewis. I've chosen the best team with which to defend my title, and I think it is going to be a great partnership with Lewis."

Regardless of whether the anticipated clash of egos inside the all-homegrown 'super team' materialises or not, Button acknowledges that there will be a considerable weight of expectation upon both men's shoulders to keep the world championship trophy in Britain for a third consecutive campaign for the first time in almost half a century. That, though, he assures, is nothing he cannot deal with, even in what is being billed as one of the most competitive fields for years, with the return of a certain Michael Schumacher tearing up all the pre-season predictions.

"I'm used to pressure," the seven-time grand prix-winner underlined, "and now I have won the world championship I feel so much more relaxed. I'm more confident as a person, and I believe that will show in my driving."

"[Ross Brawn] should be congratulated on bringing Michael back. Michael has achieved more than any other driver in F1, so having him in the sport while we're racing for the championship will be great. Michael is going to be a really tough competitor, but he won't have it all his own way - none of us will. It's going to be an epic Formula 1 season with such a competitive field of top teams and drivers.

"Will I retain my title? That's the aim. There's an interesting fact that 70 per cent of sportsmen, if they win the world championship, don't achieve it again the next season, so it's about working out why the 30 per cent do and mentally being ready to go into the new season - I'm working on that one!"

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