Admitting that he is the most excited he has ever been heading into F1 2010 as he prepares to do battle in defence of his hard-fought drivers' world championship crown, Jenson Button has metaphorically stuck two fingers up at those who claim he hasn't a hope in hell of taking on and beating Lewis Hamilton at McLaren-Mercedes – by declaring that he is 'in the best possible place I can be'.
Having brought a rollercoaster, fairytale-esque campaign for Brawn GP to a fitting conclusion last year by clinching the title in Brazil, ten months after the team had looked all-but out for the count in the wake of parent company Honda's sudden and shock withdrawal from competition, Button is now bidding to become the first Brit in top flight history to successfully lift the laurels in back-to-back seasons.
Not so fast, say the cynics, for in order to do so the 30-year-old will not only have to overcome the likes of double world champion Fernando Alonso, highly-rated young gun Sebastian Vettel and returning legend Michael Schumacher – but he will also have to overcome his own team-mate, whose lair he has foolhardily if bravely stepped into by jumping ship to McLaren, the team that Hamilton has to all intents and purposes made his own over the last few years. As mission impossible scenarios go, opine his critics, it is a fairly compelling one – but perhaps unsurprisingly, the man himself somewhat disagrees.
“It's been a very busy January and a very good January,” Button reflected, speaking at the launch of the new MP4-25 contender at the Newbury headquarters of McLaren title sponsor Vodafone. “Moving to a new team is always difficult and a big change because you never really know what to expect or what the atmosphere will be like, but the team have really welcomed me and there has been a very good atmosphere. I've been pleasantly surprised and I really feel like I have become part of this team now, even in the short period of time that I've been with McLaren.
“I had a great relationship with [Brawn GP], and my decision to move came because I wanted a new challenge. You should always be looking for new challenges in your life – and that's exactly what I've now got on my hands. When I won the world championship I achieved my initial goal, something for which I had been fighting for 21 years since I was eight-years-old – and then I thought 'where do I go from here?'
“After the last race you think about what you've achieved, and the road to becoming world champion goes through your mind – but soon after that you start forgetting, because you're already concentrating on 2010 and the new challenge. Having the number one on my car is very special, but you do need to start forgetting about last year and looking to the future.
“Coming to McLaren – a team with so much experience – has really spurred me on, and I'm going into this season feeling so much more excited than any other season that I've been in F1. Winning the world championship has boosted my confidence, and I've become a much stronger person and stronger driver than I was last year. I'm going to make sure I'm 100 per cent ready for Bahrain, because I don't want any excuses. I'm not looking to prove anything to anyone – I don't need to do that. I'm in the best possible place I can be for this season, and this is a massive challenge for me – but it's one I'm really looking forward to!”
Button's confidence, indeed, is palpable, and if the title was awarded on determination and optimism alone, he would be world champion again already. However, in order for that to become a reality, the Frome-born ace is well aware that he and Hamilton will need to do precisely what Fernando Alonso and Hamilton were singularly incapable of doing at McLaren three years ago – working together.
“The start of 2009 was a difficult period for [McLaren],” the seven-time grand prix-winner acknowledged, “but I think that's good in a way because it makes the team that much hungrier to succeed in 2010 – and I can really see that going round the factory. Everyone you talk to says that it has been possibly the busiest winter ever, but they don't care because they're producing something special. It's all going very smoothly and January has been great – but I can't wait for February to start!