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.