McLaren-Mercedes is keen to retain its current driver line-up of countrymen Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button for 'another five years at least', Martin Whitmarsh has revealed - as he enthuses about the duo's 'particular bond' and fiercely competitive-yet-friendly rivalry.

When then reigning world champion Button was signed from Brawn GP to join title-winning predecessor Hamilton at McLaren in 2010, the sport's assembled media swiftly expected the worst, forecasting a fall-out of cataclysmic proportions at Woking - ? la Hamilton/Fernando Alonso or Ayrton Senna/Alain Prost - within months, if not indeed weeks.

As it transpired, the two men got on famously - and it was in fact arch-rivals Red Bull Racing and Ferrari that experienced the downside of internecine sparring as the campaign wore on. McLaren team principal Whitmarsh is adamant that he could have no better pairing to bring the best out of both one another and also the team.

"We have had some long driver relationships, but I hope this one goes on for many more years," the Englishman affirmed, according to The Guardian. "We have two drivers that do really have a particular bond - they like working together, and are both enjoying it. I can't think of two drivers who are better communicators than Jenson and Lewis - and we've got both of them.

"Jenson's got inner peace, he enjoys F1, has a passion for it and for as long as he is competitive, he will want to continue. There's no reason from a physiological point-of-view that he can't be around at McLaren for another five years at least. He's got another five years in him if he wants it - and Lewis has got another ten years in F1."

Hamilton, notably, has been linked in recent weeks with a future switch to defending double world champions and early-season F1 2011 pace-setters Red Bull should McLaren prove unable to provide him with the machinery with which to vie for glory - but as he looks ahead to this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, the British star seems intent on reversing the old mantra that if you can't beat them, join them. Whilst he might not be ready to join RBR just yet, he is clearly fired-up indeed to beat them.

"It's always best to put a disappointing weekend behind you and, as always, I'll make a positive of the experience in Malaysia and learn from it," the 26-year-old mused, reflecting upon his frustrating outing at Sepang last Sunday that culminated in a touch with former team-mate Fernando Alonso and a subsequent post-race penalty for weaving in defence of his position.

"What's been most encouraging is that our pace is still extremely strong; Jenson drove a fantastic race [in Malaysia] and was able to narrow the gap to Sebastian [Vettel] during the closing laps, and I think we have the pace to continue taking the battle to Red Bull this weekend.

"In both races, we've seen that Red Bull hasn't been able to achieve its full potential, and I think it's important that we keep applying the pressure to make sure they can't afford to make mistakes."

"Coming just a week after Malaysia, it's essential that we maintain the thrust of our development programme in order to further close the gap to the front," concurred Whitmarsh. "To achieve that, we'll be spending Friday evaluating a number of new components alongside our regular tyre and set-up programmes - either for potential incorporation into our programme for the Shanghai race, or as part of our longer-term development strategy. The development race is where this year's world championship will be won or lost.

"Equally, we ought to take nothing for granted. I'm extremely pleased that we've managed to achieve 100 per cent reliability in both Australia and Malaysia, and that our KERS Hybrid system - engineered so well by everyone at Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines - has worked faultlessly during the first two grands prix.

"For this race, we know we have to step up the pressure. We're looking to hit the ground running on Friday, maintain that momentum through Saturday and be in with the best possible chance of taking victory on Sunday."



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