On the eve of the F1 2010 World Championship campaign, Lewis Hamilton has conceded that he 'can learn' from new McLaren-Mercedes team-mate and title-winning successor Jenson Button this year, as the pair go head-to-head in a battle to determine who really is the best British driver in the world right now.
The common paddock view is that in this eagerly-anticipated internecine scrap between the sport's most recent two world champions, Hamilton's scintillating raw speed – enough to rattle Fernando Alonso's cage three years ago, when the Stevenage-born ace was still only a rookie in the top flight – and familiarity with the team having been supported by McLaren since the age of eleven will make him unbeatable, and few are really giving Button much hope of emerging on top.
Having admitted to mishandling the situation at Woking in 2007, however – as the duel between Hamilton and Alonso degenerated into all-out war and barely-concealed disdain [see separate story – click here
] – and having been chastened by the Melbourne lies controversy of this time last year [see separate story – click here
], the 25-year-old has now opined that there will likely be plenty that his older and more experienced compatriot can teach him over the coming months.
“There are things about how perhaps he will carry himself, there are things about how he'll drive, his smoothness, his approach to corners, his braking, his acceleration...” the eleven-time grand prix-winner mused during a special pre-season Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes phone-in session. “Once we get to the first race and we have to overlook one another's driving styles, I have no doubt that there will be things that I can learn from him and things he can learn from me.
“We've not been working on the same day generally [during testing], so at the moment we haven't overlaid our race traces or our laps. Jenson has obviously been doing his testing on one day, and I would hear his feedback about the car at the end of the day and vice-versa, but we haven't really looked at the different driving styles or the different demands.
“So far we seem to give back the exact same feedback and the same feeling in the car, which is a plus for us I think. Working together is going very well at the moment, but I think when we get to the first race that will give us a real indication of just how different we demand the car when we're driving on the same day.”
Aside from the arrival of his countryman in the stead of Heikki Kovalainen, another significant shift at McLaren over the close-season has been on the engineering side, with Hamilton's erstwhile race engineer Phil Prew being promoted to the role of principal race engineer, and former test engineer Andy Latham – who has worked closely with both Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen during his nine years at the squad to-date – stepping up to take his place.
Button, for his part, will be engineered by Danish-born Jakob Andreason, eight years Latham's senior and a man with prior experience in Champ Car, BTCC, International Formula 3000 and DTM circles, before being appointed as an assistant race engineer at McLaren in 2005 and similarly going on to work on Hamilton's car. The 2008 world champion acknowledges that the upheaval is a considerable one, but he insists it is for the best.
“It's quite a change for me, because obviously I had Philip and Jakob, who is now Jenson's chief engineer,” he reflected. “I was working with those guys for the last three years, so it was new for me to change my engineer and have something completely fresh.
“We had something working very well before, but I think it was great for the engineers, and for Jakob to take the step from assistant engineer to leading engineer, and also for me. I've got a great guy in Andy Latham – he's got great experience. It was good to see Philip, who is a fantastic engineer, promoted to oversee both sides of the garage. I think it's now much better-organised than we'd had in the past, and I think it will work really well for both of us.”