Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button might have been team-mates for barely a couple of months, but the psychological warfare is already underway at McLaren-Mercedes, it would seem – on one side of the camp, at least, with the former giving short shrift to the latter's argument that the duo should be 'best friends' as well as 'fierce rivals'.
Hamilton and new McLaren arrival Button were all smiles at the Newbury launch of the 2010 MP4-25 late last week, as they faced the assembled media alongside one another for the first time since the latter was poached from Brawn GP (now Mercedes Grand Prix) in mid-November – but all may not be quite so sweetness-and-light behind-the-scenes, it appears, with the 2008 world champion seemingly not so keen to work together for the greater good of the team as is his compatriot and title-winning successor.
Hamilton and Fernando Alonso endured a famously frosty relationship at Woking in 2007, when the British star was a rookie in the top flight and the Spaniard the reigning double F1 World Champion. With neither willing to give any quarter at all and Hamilton since confessing that 'perhaps in certain cases we didn't work together well enough and didn't work together for the team' [see separate story – click here
], both men ultimately missed out on the drivers' laurels in favour of Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen. There are fears that history could be set to repeat itself three years on.
“It's important for us to work together and Lewis understands that,” Button underlined. “So far we've got on very well. Of course we're competitive, but [that's fine] as long as we go about it the right way. Every practice session, every qualifying session, every race, someone is going to be in front, which will change all the time. We completely understand that, and it's exciting.
“It's exciting having a team-mate that's competitive, and that pushes you on. Who knows if we're going to argue? If we knew that then what's the point of going racing? What I do know is we'll work together as hard as we can, and that is the way we have to start this relationship. You've got to be best friends with your team-mate, but also fierce rivals.”
Both men are staunchly determined to add a second world championship crown to their respective career CVs this season, but only one of them – and perhaps indeed neither – will be able to do so. It is one thing to have a competitive team-mate to drive both yourself and the team forward, but quite another when that level of competition escalates to such an extent as to cause friction inside the squad and ultimately gift wrap the title to somebody else, as 2007's salutary lesson went to show.
Much might depend upon how well Hamilton has learned from that unsavoury episode, and as the longstanding incumbent at McLaren – having first joined forces with the Surrey-based outfit as an eleven-year-old karter all the way back in 1996, and having to all intents and purposes made the team his own since graduating to the grand prix grid three years ago – he will need to reciprocate Button's open approach rather than single-handedly focussing upon personal glory. Only time will tell if that is something that the 25-year-old is willing to do.
“[I've] never heard that saying before, so I'm not saying whether I agree with it,” the Stevenage-born ace responded, when asked about Button's contention that the pair should be 'best friends' as well as 'fierce rivals'. “What you have to do is have the utmost respect for each other, and that's all I'll say about that.
“You always want to compete with your team-mate, but we are there to race everyone. We're both very professional, we get on well and we've got a good relationship that's grown from many years in the sport. At the moment, all I know is we have been working to improve the car, and Jenson has been acclimatising to the team.
“I'm sure there will be a time when we will sit down and discuss that kind of thing, but I really don't think there will be a problem. You can see the chemistry between myself and Jenson is completely different to how it may have been in the past.”