Jenson Button has revealed the secret behind a harmonious working relationship with McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton – away from the racetrack, they 'don't spend any time together'.
When Button jumped ship from Brawn GP – now Mercedes Grand Prix, and the team with which he claimed the 2009 F1 World Championship crown – to McLaren at the end of that season, many forecast fireworks between the British star and his countryman and fellow title-winner Hamilton, who by common consent had all-but made the Woking-based outfit his own.
Aside from a couple of obvious flashpoints – Istanbul in 2010, for example, or Montreal last weekend, when the pair collided as an ambitious Hamilton tried a move on his team-mate that wasn't really there – the pair have by-and-large defied the cynics in getting on famously. In deference to McLaren's title sponsor, there has even been a series of Vodafone commercials portraying the two men as friends, but whilst conceding that such a scenario is a little far-fetched, Button does admit that the partnership is an eminently healthy one.
“We don't spend any time together,” he told the Daily Mail
. “It is the easiest way, really. We get on, but we still want to beat each other and that is always going to be the way. We are very competitive people. For me, coming to this team, it was exciting to work with Lewis because he is one of the fastest drivers F1 has ever seen. That is a challenge, and I am strong enough to take that challenge. If I didn't feel comfortable with my ability, I wouldn't have made the move to McLaren.”
That ability was underlined in fine style in the Canadian Grand Prix, in which Button overcame no fewer than six visits to the pits and scythed his way magnificently up through the order from 21st place on a treacherous wet-but-drying track surface to snatch victory away from F1 2011 World Championship leader Sebastian Vettel on the very last lap. Both driver and team admitted afterwards that it was likely the finest performance of his top flight career [see here
“Five stops, a drive-through penalty, different sets of tyres, all over the place, a collision with [Fernando] Alonso, and then I found myself in 21st trying to chase down the field behind a safety car, and they re-started it without me, and then I won the race,” he recalls of his breathless afternoon around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. “It was very different from my normal driving style. I was ragged; a few times, I almost put it in the wall.
“Obviously I'm very sorry I collided with Lewis. We spoke about it, and it's one of those things – I didn't know he was there. He was one of the first people to congratulate me after the race. Fighting through from the back, from 21st and last to winning in a few laps, not a lot of people have done that. It was a lot of fun because it was all-or-nothing. I didn't want to finish second – I wanted to win.”
Indeed, it is that very same burning motivation to succeed in the sport that means Button cannot be discounted from contention for a second world title in 2011. The ten-time grand prix-winner might be 60 points shy of Vettel in the drivers' standings a third of the way through the campaign, but he is the Red Bull Racing ace's closest challenger now – and palpably fired-up in the extreme. What's more, he is convinced that at McLaren, he is with a team that will provide him with the opportunity to duel for glory for many seasons to come.
“I don't know if we are all the same, but I think we will always want more than we have got,” the 31-year-old mused. “For someone to be content with what they have is very unusual and, if they have that, it is a quality. I am not there yet.
“I don't think [his 2009 championship triumph] will ever feel long ago. Even when I am old and grey, it will still feel like yesterday. Those memories will always be there. If I didn't win another championship, I wouldn't leave F1 and feel I had missed out, that I hadn't achieved what I wanted to. There wouldn't be a nagging doubt – I am a world champion.
“I realise that I am doing something I absolutely love. I feel very happy about what I have achieved, and I also feel very lucky to be in the position I am, to be in a great team and also to be good at what I love doing. You do not see Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer giving up when they win a grand slam, and at this moment in time, I am still young and I still want to fight for more championships. I am not going to give up until I either get bored of racing around in circles in F1 cars or I am not quick enough.”