Former world champion Lewis Hamilton has described his current McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Jenson Button as 'the best overall package' he has faced inside the same team in F1 and has discussed his gradually improving relationship with the sport's Spanish fans - quipping that he hopes 'in five or so years' time, I'll have a massive crowd of love' in Barcelona.

When the two British stars were teamed up alongside one another at McLaren last year, many in the paddock forecast fireworks and a swift deterioration in their working relationship, as had been the case between Hamilton and Fernando Alonso back in 2007. As things have transpired, of course, the pair have got along famously - and that is in large part down to a healthy dose of mutual respect and appreciation, Hamilton contends.

"To be a good driver, it's not only about speed," the 2008 F1 World Champion is quoted as having said by The Sun. "It's about your presence in the team, the comments you make, your persona and your behaviour when you win and when you lose. Jenson is definitely the best overall package I've been up against."

Some of those comments could arguably have been pointedly targeted at Alonso, with whom Hamilton fell out so spectacularly during the course of his rookie campaign on the grand prix grid four years ago - albeit a man of whom he now insists 'there's mutual respect between us...he has some serious talent', adding that 'he's very, very quick but not impossible to beat...no-one is'.

After Alonso acrimoniously left McLaren two years before his three-year contract was due to expire at the end of the 2007 campaign, Hamilton found himself something of a hate figure in the Spaniard's homeland, facing a backlash of racist abuse during a test session around Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya in early 2008 - the catalyst for governing body the FIA's 'EveryRace' campaign - and on a Spanish website later that same season.

Ever since then, the 26-year-old has been slowly-but-surely repairing his battered reputation in the eyes of the Spanish populace, and on the eve of this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, he appeared on popular talk show Buenafuente alongside Button and McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa, who sought to convince his countrymen that 'Lewis is a much better person than you all think'.

"It was quite a positive to be seen on a Spanish TV show," Hamilton told Press Association Sport. "It was good to be on there with Pedro and Jenson, and hopefully it came off well. I would also hope it has improved my image with the Spanish people, because it has been a constant uphill struggle.

"Every year, though, I get more people, more fans coming up to me and I notice more cheers. There is more positivity and less negativity. I'm hoping the negative days are behind me, and that in five or so years' time I'll have a massive crowd of love here. That's my goal."

As to the prospect of pairing up with Alonso again later on in their respective F1 careers - given that the latter has this week signed an extension to his agreement with Ferrari until the end of 2016 [see separate story - click here] - the 15-time grand prix-winner was unequivocal.

"Generally, we'll always be opponents at different teams," he assured. "I don't have a problem with being alongside him, but I assume he wouldn't allow it to be the other way around, not that generally I've really wanted that. You try to put yourself in good environments and with good people, which works for him, and it works for me. Obviously where I am right now works perfectly well for me, so I don't see any reason to change."

Of more immediate concern for Hamilton, of course, is taming the rampant runaway Red Bulls, with Mark Webber and F1 2011 World Championship leader Sebastian Vettel - the German presently some 34 points clear of him in the title standings - once more setting a searing pace during FP1 in Barcelona today, but McLaren benefitting from what engineering director Tim Goss has described as 'about ten-to-twelve upgrades' for its MP4-26 this weekend.

"I have to beat Red Bull," Hamilton stressed. "They have the best car. The last time I drove in Barcelona, during winter testing, the car had no grip. I've downforce now, and I'll be more competitive in the race. We're optimistic we'll again be back in the fight for the big points this weekend."

Meanwhile, Button - who joked of his TV appearance that 'it was a little bit tricky because you would say something and think it was really funny, and nobody would laugh for ten seconds and then you're thinking 'right, I'm going to have to wait for people to laugh now, please laugh' and you're just sat there praying' - has reflected upon his own time at McLaren, the team he joined as defending F1 World Champion at the end of 2009.

"I don't think I'd change anything in my career," he told London's Evening Standard, when asked what might have been possible had he come on-board at the Woking-based outfit at an earlier juncture. "I've made mistakes, but I don't look back or forward too far. If I'd come to McLaren sooner, who knows what might have happened? I might not have been world champion in 2009, for example."

One of the most public mistakes that Button has made was of course his infamous pit-stop blunder in the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai last month, with the 31-year-old revealing that his girlfriend Jessica subsequently offered to give him parking tips but insisting: "It was a silly mistake, but it's easy to watch and say it was a mistake. People have to realise you're doing so much in the car that moments like that can happen."

Happily, there was no such error when he and Hamilton went wheel-to-wheel in Shanghai and then Istanbul three weeks later, with Button allowing his compatriot just enough room to squeeze by on both occasions and reasoning that 'common sense was called for' since 'he was a lot quicker than me at both times in those races...and the best option was to avoid crashing'.

The nine-time grand prix-winner added, finally, that he is in favour of the mooted regulations upheaval for 2013 and beyond aimed at making F1 more environmentally accountable, and he confessed that he rates the current crop of drivers as being amongst the highest calibre in the sport's history. He himself has not triumphed in some 20 races - but he is confident he will do so again.

"I'm for the changes as, hopefully, it will attract smaller teams and there will be more of a level playing field," he mused, "but we have to be careful. This year, for example, overtaking has become a bit too easy. We have to make sure F1 is still the leader in terms of drivers, technology and entertainment.

"F1 is the most competitive it has ever been. Obviously I wasn't racing in the '60s, '70s, '80s or '90s but, for me, this is the best time for F1 for talented drivers. Michael Schumacher is racing in one of the best teams on the grid, and he hasn't had a podium in the last year-and-a-half. I've had some tough times in F1, but some amazing times as well. The wins will come again."

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