Jenson Button has again claimed that he expects to have Lewis Hamilton as his team-mate at McLaren in 2013, despite the latest suggestions that the 2008 world champion may be on his way to Mercedes next season.
Speculation has surrounded Hamilton's future since midway through 2011, when the Briton was struggling to contain his off-track emotions and suffered his worst F1 campaign since emerging as an immediate frontrunner on debut in 2007. Although he entered 2012 in a better frame of mind, negotiations over a new contract have dragged on, leading to Hamilton being connected with potential vacancies at various teams. With the door closing at Red Bull when Mark Webber re-signed, and Ferrari thought unlikely due to his previous fractious relationship with Fernando Alonso, Hamilton is now being heavily tipped to be on his way to Mercedes, with team boss-turned-TV pundit Eddie Jordan convinced that the Briton will replace Michael Schumacher at Brackley next year [see story here
The claims were met, unsurprisingly, by denials on all sides, and Button firmly believes that McLaren's line-up will remain unchanged in 2013.
"We all read newspapers, magazines and the internet, and you hear things, but I was surprised to see what I read yesterday," he told journalists at Monza on Thursday evening, "I haven't a clue if there's any truth in it at all, but I think I'll have the same team mate next year.
"For all of us, you can get a bit stale if you are in the same place for too long, but not here. This is a great team, one that is always giving us the opportunity to fight for wins. A driver likes the excitement and adrenaline of new challenges, and that's the reason I came here in the first place, but I don't think anything will change here next year in terms of driver line-up."
Despite winning his world title with the team that would subsequently become Mercedes, Button admits that he had his reasons for moving on, and suggests that his former employer is not in a position - yet - to give Hamilton what he expects to find at McLaren.
"Back then, I was very excited about the challenge of racing for McLaren and also about racing alongside Lewis, who is an extremely quick driver and a world champion," he told the official F1 website of his move in the winter of 2009, "So, for me, it was a very important move. It was a bit scary and a lot of people thought that it wasn't the right move for me, but I think I have proved them wrong.
"McLaren is a team that pretty much always gives you a car that can win races - and I knew that when I came here. I'd say congratulations to the guys at Mercedes for winning a grand prix this year, but they haven't been in contention for a win as often as McLaren has over the last three years. We all want to make some changes once in a while but, clearly, for me, the best place to be is McLaren."
Button is naturally on a high with McLaren, having taken its MP4-27 to victory in last weekend's Belgian Grand Prix, boosting his flagging outside hopes of landing a second world title in 2012.
"It was very welcome!" he laughed, "Winning is highly addictive, so I had been missing it for much too long. The win in Spa was a fantastic reward after that wait.
"There is a lot less downforce than at Spa here, so we will have to wait and see [if we can repeat the win in Italy this weekend]. I always like to come to Monza, even if it is obvious that there is massive support for one particular team."