After his relationship with Fernando Alonso went rapidly downhill over the course of the 2007 Formula 1 campaign - his first in the top flight - Lewis Hamilton is now looking forward to a far less strained and controversial time of things in 2008 alongside Heikki Kovalainen.

Indeed, the fiery Spaniard and unflappable Finn could barely be more different in temperament, and at the Stuttgart launch of the new McLaren-Mercedes MP4-23, Hamilton appeared palpably more at ease alongside his new driving partner than he ever had throughout the second half of 2007, with the situation reportedly getting so bad that at times he and Alonso were barely even on speaking terms.

The Briton did, however, acknowledge that he expected to face a stiff challenge from his fellow grand prix sophomore, who made an impressive debut in the sport last year to turn his season around with considerable flair at the midway point. He went on to crown his achievements with an outstanding second place in the weather-ravaged Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji, re-passing Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen on the very last tour to seal the runner-up spot - to Hamilton, appropriately enough.

"Heikki and I have known each other for a while now," the 2006 GP2 Champion stated, "and our friendship has grown over the years. I find it very easy to get on with him; we have a very mutual feeling between one another.

"With certain people you ask questions and they give you one-word answers, whereas other people make the conversation. With Heikki I don't make the conversation - he's happy to start - and we can just talk for ages. I think we have very similar views - he loves the car without traction control and racing wheel-to-wheel, and that I think just makes everything a little bit simpler.

"We are both highly competitive and both want to beat each other, but in doing that we want to do the best job we can individually and also push the team forward and just enjoy the racing. At the end of the day that's what we are here to do."

Hamilton, who turned 23 on the day of the launch, was equally quick to rebuff any suggestions he may be treated as McLaren's favourite son given his longstanding bond with the Woking-based outfit and record-breaking run in 2007. On a number of occasions last year Alonso volubly expressed his fears that he was not being handed equal opportunities within the team.

"I don't believe I'm starting as the team's first driver," the Stevenage-born ace asserted. "We expect to have the exact same opportunity, and I believe that's what we are going to be given. As team-mates we are going to push to beat each other, and push the team forward.

"We both want to win the world championship, and even if one of us is finishing higher or being more consistent or winning more, it doesn't mean he's the lead driver. I think as you saw at the end of last season, even though I was leading the world championship, we were both given the same opportunities.

"At the end of the day I want to qualify on pole and Heikki wants to qualify on pole. If he beats me I know he's done a better job, so I have to go away and try to understand why, then come back and try to beat him the next time. I think we both have that same appreciation of how good one another are, and I honestly don't see there are going to be any problems throughout the season."



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