Saturday 24 February 2018

Formula 1: Hamilton my biggest rival, says Button

Simon Briggs in Valencia

LEWIS HAMILTON and Jensen Button were reunited yesterday on the waterfront in Valencia, a venue better known for hosting the America's Cup. The two Englishmen like to see themselves as happy crew members.

Still, as we reach the halfway point of the Formula 1 season, both are equally aware that there can be only one skipper on the great McLaren ship.

"Lewis has to be pretty much my biggest rival," Button admitted yesterday, with the candour that makes him one of motorsport's most engaging characters. "There are going to be times when we are wheel to wheel this season and we just have to make sure we respect each other in racing terms and don't do anything silly."

The McLaren roadshow has gathered pace with a pair of one-twos at the last two races, in Turkey and Canada. Hamilton took the chequered flag in both races, with Button in close attendance, and now the pair lead the table by a short head.

From the perspective of Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren's team principal, the narrow gap between his two drivers -- both on the stopwatch and in the table -- could be described as a nice problem to have. Red Bull have kept pace with the McLaren drivers for much of the season, as have Ferrari. But their internal battle is the strongest motivation of all.

"As a package I think we've done a great job this season," said Button. "I have pushed Lewis very hard and he has pushed me very hard and we have both moved forward, in terms of our speed and our ability, more this season than we have in previous seasons."

There is a contrast here with Heikki Kovalainen, the so-called "Flying Finn" who was Hamilton's team-mate over the previous two seasons. As Hamilton himself admitted yesterday: "Heikki was always very competitive in practice and qualifying but race pace wasn't his strongest point. Now Jensen's getting more results in, and that encourages the team. We've had three one-twos so far, for the guys in the factory that's a huge boost."

It will be interesting to see how McLaren handle the run-in, assuming that they maintain their narrow advantage over the other teams. Hamilton and Button have already been close to a Red Bull-style coming together in Turkey. Can they stay out of trouble for the remaining 11 races, particularly if the title is at stake?

Whitmarsh thinks so. "They want to beat each other," he said. "But they've developed trust, understanding and communication."

What does it mean in lap times? "It's difficult to know but it creates an atmosphere that's good for us." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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