JENSON BUTTON has been left stunned by former team-mate Lewis Hamilton's veiled criticism of life at McLaren.
Since moving to Mercedes at the start of the year Hamilton has revelled in freedoms he says were not prevalent at McLaren, a team where he spent 13 years, the last six of those in Formula One.
Earlier this week Hamilton said: "I have come from a place with a lot of control, a really controlled environment where you are restricted to do and say what you are told."
Although McLaren's image of being staid and corporate has changed markedly since Ron Dennis stepped down as team principal a few years ago, that perception remains in the eyes of some.
Hamilton's comments do not help, but Button claims they could not be further from the truth.
Asked about Hamilton's remarks by Press Association Sport, Button said: "Yeah, I was very surprised to hear that.
"The freedom you have in this team is phenomenal, and that doesn't just go for me.
"In this team you have to work, probably harder than you would at other teams, at sponsor requests and what have you.
"This is an F1 team that is not a mass-production manufacturer.
"For a team like McLaren you need big sponsors to exist in this sport.
"You need to understand that initially when I came to this team it was a shock, it really was, after winning the world championship [with Brawn in 2009].
"At Brawn there were six sponsor events throughout the year, but here it is so much busier. I went 'Wow! Really?' But you learn to understand, you learn to adapt and realise it is part of this job, and you need that to succeed.
"It is not about just working with the sponsor, it is about doing a great job with the sponsor because you want them to work with you for a long time, you want to move forward with them.
"So I understand from that point of view it is very busy here, your time is restricted because you are flying around, travelling more and doing more sponsor events.
"But in terms of what you can do as a driver, and the way a driver can help the development of a car, this team is amazing.
"I feel you have so much freedom and so much help if you need it, and whatever your issues are you get help here.
"I've heard so many rumours - and not Lewis as such - and read so much in the media about the way this team is, and it's so far from the truth.
"It is such an open team, a friendly team, and a team that will do anything to help you."
Approaching the start of his 14th F1 season in Australia this weekend, Button can honestly say he has never been happier.
"Definitely," said Button.
"I've nothing against my previous team because I loved working with them - with all the name changes we had," he added, referring to his time at Brawn, the Brackley-based team previously known as Honda and before that BAR.
"There was a really good atmosphere. I'm never going to take anything away from them.
"But when I came here I thought it would be like people perceive it to be, but it's not at all. It's nothing like that when you are on the inside.
"It's such a big family and they will do anything to make sure we are comfortable and that when we go racing we are totally focused."
Meanwhile, McLaren today suffered their third big departure in the space of a few months with the news Vodafone will not be renewing their title sponsorship agreement at the end of the year.
In light of Hamilton's departure, and with technical director Paddy Lowe also due to join Mercedes from next year, the loss of Vodafone is another blow on the eve of the new campaign.
In partnership since 2007, Vodafone has decided "to focus on business priorities away from Formula One sponsorship" after exceeding "all the highly ambitious targets...set for its title partnership".
A number of high-profile names are in the frame as replacement, with McLaren already naming December 2 as the date for the announcement of what will be only their fifth title sponsor in their 50-year history.