Jenson Button is under no illusions about how tough it will be to defend his world championship after his switch from Brawn GP to McLaren, and he is certain that the returning Michael Schumacher will be one of his major sources of competition.
"It's not just me that is excited about Michael's comeback," he said on Thursday, after trying last year's McLaren MP4-24 for the first time in the Woking team's highly advanced simulator. "It's good for everyone in the sport. I'm sure there will be at least eight cars fighting for the win in Bahrain. Michael will be in one of them and I will be in another. And it'll be funny after all these years to see him in a colour that isn't red. I love racing when other top competitors are in cars that are more or less equal. I get a real buzz from that."
He is relishing the chance to take on the seven-time champion in what should be equal machinery for the first time since he challenged Ferrari with his BAR Honda back in 2004. But team-mate Lewis Hamilton will also be a major threat and inevitably will start with the advantage of three years of racing with McLaren and a deep understanding of their psyche and modus operandi thanks to a relationship that goes back to his boyhood. But Button said he did not think that advantage would be too significant, although he admitted that everything is new to him so far.
"I need to get to know quickly how it all works here, and to be ready for the first race," Button said.
"That's what I'm aiming for, getting to know my way around. There's a different way of working in every Formula One team. My initial feeling after winning the world championship was 'wow, I've achieved what I set out to achieve'. But it was slightly strange. I felt that I wanted a new challenge, to run alongside Lewis and to drive for a team that has achieved so much and has so much history."
The simulator will be a major tool in the age when on-track testing is limited to just 15 days in February and is banned thereafter once the season has begun.
"I will be doing a lot of days in it in January and also in February between the track tests," he said. "I need to get as many miles as possible so that I can understand the simulator, especially when we use it as a test bed for new parts. I've been in it already this morning and it was good.
"I think McLaren will produce a good car, and while I know we will have a lot of competition, I think we will be competitive. I'm more motivated than ever."