At a party at McLaren on Saturday evening, to celebrate Jenson Button's 200th grand prix, which he subsequently won in fairy-tale style at the Hungaroring, Lewis Hamilton grabbed his team-mate, waved over a photographer, and posed spontaneously. It was the perfect illustration of their relationship. The next day Hamilton, at one stage the likely winner, told the world that the better man had won.
When McLaren paired the superstars Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, it was mixing fire and gasoline. It wasn't any better when Hamilton joined Fernando Alonso there for 2007. Explosions ripped the team apart. Not so Button and Hamilton.
The two Britons' accord is genuine and hugely beneficial to the team. "Lewis and I have had some good battles along the way and we've only touched once!" Button grins, referring to the moment in the recent Canadian GP, which he also went on to win, when inadvertently he put his team-mate out of the race. "We've had some really good fights, and overtaken each other a lot. That's the best type of racing. Lewis is tough, but we have respect for each other and give each other room to race, so we can pass and repass." They showed that again in the Hungarian GP, running wheel to wheel for several laps, before Button took the flag from the world champion Sebastian Vettel.
"It's funny," he reflects, "but I haven't had that many fights with Sebastian." On paper, Vettel is in the position Button was in during 2009, leading the world championship against mounting opposition. And like Button did, he's feeling the heat after a third defeat. "But there's definitely less [pressure] for him than I had," Button points out. "He's already won the world championship, which is very important. You don't feel the pressure so much, when you've already done it.
"It wasn't easy for me to win consistently by the end of the year but he still has a massive lead. He has no need to take risks and he's driving a competitive car. Red Bull has great resources, so it's a different situation to the one I found myself in with Brawn. And if I had the lead he's got, I wouldn't be feeling any pressure at all! He's facing a nine-race [run-in], starting with an 80-point lead!"
He says he's enjoyed his racing "a hell of a lot" since he won the 2009 title – indeed, both he and Vettel have kept their feet firmly on the ground despite their success. So what's Button's secret to normality?
"The people around you," he says. "I always bring good friends to races, friends from school, plus my physio Mike Collier, or my manager Richard Goddard, Dad, Jessica... People I know well. They pull me back if I start to step out of line."
And then this outgoing man says something unexpected. "I don't make new friends easily. I find it hard to trust new people."
Jessica Michibata, his Japanese girlfriend, is an exception to that. "She really enjoys F1," Button says. He can often be found explaining the intricacies of tyre choice to her. "She has a memory like an elephant!" They even do triathlons together.Reuse content