Button & Hamilton: 'We do it first for ourselves, then our team and then our country'
Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton lay out their priorities to David Tremayne as they prepare for the unique pressures of this weekend's home grand prix at Silverstone
Monday 05 July 2010
Winning at home, you celebrate with your home crowd. I've never even been on the podium here, and I'm going to change that this year."
The fighting talk is Jenson Button's. Together with McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton he'll be charging into the British Grand Prix at Silverstone later this week adamant that beating the other is the last thing they care about. Each has won two races in a hyper-competitive season, and both rate their chances of delivering the goods in the immediate aftermath of England's World Cup fiasco and Andy Murray's defeat at Wimbledon.
The jingoism, however, means less than giving their home fans the result they want to see.
"It's very difficult for us to imagine how tough it was for the English footballers in the World Cup, the pressure on their shoulders," Button explained. "One bad game and the whole country is pushing you. We are in a very international sport and you do it first for yourself, then for your team and then for your country, whereas in World Cup football it's 100 per cent for the country. So I don't feel under pressure going into my home race. I feel very relaxed, and Lewis is the same. It'll be a lovely atmosphere. We've both been there and had a crap result, yet you still get the support. For us it's a case of going there and looking forward to it, more than feeling under pressure."
Hamilton agrees. "Every year we go there it's a mega experience with the support you have," he said. "I really just hope it will be an incredible experience again, that the upgrades we will have on the car work, and we're able to demolish the field."
Despite not having those upgrades last weekend in Valencia, they brought their McLarens home second and third in the European Grand Prix, behind Sebastian Vettel's dominant Red Bull. After a slow start, McLaren have come on like gangbusters with arguably the highest rate of technical development of any of the 12 teams. But in Spain last week Hamilton came in for heavy criticism from his old team-mate and deadly rival Fernando Alonso, after an incident in which he passed the medical car as it left the pits. Later Alonso apologised for suggesting that the race had been "manipulated," but didn't tone down his criticism of Hamilton. The Englishman dismissed it. "We are all so passionate that we've had that experience," he said of the Spaniard's outburst. "We all do it. It doesn't worry me."
But let there be no doubt that he will be going all-out to repeat his 2008 win-at-home performance after a miserable run to 16th last year. Which, of course, means beating Button along the way.
"I'm sure Jenson wants to win, but it doesn't mean he wants it more than me, so we'll have to wait and see," he said. "Although I've won the race before, I'd love to win it again, but if he does a better job than me, so be it. But he has to do a better job than me.
"We'll race fairly, and the fastest guy will win, hopefully a one-two, which would be real special. Of course I want to be ahead every race, but this one isn't any more important than any other; if any one race is more important I'd suppose it would be the last one, if it decided the title.
"Clearly expectation is high, more than anywhere else because everyone is there wearing the flag for you. But this is not the deciding race of the year. If it was then you would feel the weight of the world. Instead, for me, rather than being dragged down, I just get this incredible boost of energy from everyone."
Button doesn't disguise how excited he is about racing at the revised Silverstone, either. "It's a great grand prix, the atmosphere is always electric. It should be a full house, the weather should be good, and the new layout is flowing and should work well. We should have a competitive car, so hopefully we'll have a great weekend. It'd be great for the British public to have two British drivers fighting for the win. Whether we'll be competitive with Red Bull I don't know, but if our updates work as well as expected then we should be competing with them up front.
"If I win I won't cross the line thinking 'I've beaten Lewis'. That's what I'm here to do. I'd cross the line thinking 'I've won the British Grand Prix!'"
It sounds good, but of course they are desperate to beat one another, especially at their home race. They wouldn't be Formula One drivers if they felt otherwise. But they've both gone to great lengths this year to keep things cordial.
Button got the better start to the season, winning in Australia and China, but recently Hamilton hit back with back-to-back victories in Turkey, where he dramatically repassed Button, and Canada, and second place in Valencia moved him into a six-point lead over him at the head of the championship table.
"Initially things didn't pan out so well, with safety cars, pit stops, that sort of thing," Hamilton said. "You just need to be fortunate and have things go your way. Then the car's performance came up and I was able to take advantage of that and found myself ahead."
A crucial aspect of that resurgence has been his qualifying form, and that's where Button admits he is weak. "The last few races have been frustrating in qualifying; in Canada I wasn't quick enough, basically, and in Valencia I made a mistake in the last corner. I was very happy with our race pace, but I've got to perform better in qualifying. I'm not putting pressure on myself but I know what I've got to do to help that situation. I need to improve that if I want to fight for the championship. When I came to McLaren that was my aim, and hopefully to win one eventually, but my view was that if that happened in the first year it would be amazing, and I certainly didn't expect to be fighting for the title after four races."
In their styles, if not in personal temperament, the two mirror McLaren's former ace team-mates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. The Brazilian is Hamilton's all-time hero, while Button's smoothness has long been compared to the Frenchman's unflappable coolness. Yet in many ways Hamilton is more reminiscent of the sensational Gilles Villeneuve; he recently echoed the late Ferrari star's philosophy when he remarked: "Second place is a real achievement. But third really sucks. For me I just really do enjoy racing. If you start from the front and win without racing, it's not as exciting as if you fall behind and get back ahead again and win. That's the best feeling ever, like Brazil last year when I came from the back to P3. That felt like I'd won the race!"
Pursuing the thought, he added: "Maybe what separates us, Ayrton and me, is that I don't feel the ruthlessness in me that he had. I'm dead passionate, but I always want to win the right way and I wouldn't be happy any other way. Hopefully in my career I'll never have those situations."
Whoever wins the title this year could count themselves a champion of champions, such is the depth of the competition. Either would become champion for the second time if they are successful, but neither feels the need to emulate Michael Schumacher's seven titles to prove themselves.
"I rate the best as Senna and Prost," Hamilton said. "They were the two best drivers for me, at least in my time. Ayrton won it three times, Alain four, that's a nice thing. But I enjoy my racing, it's what I come here to do, and I've just got to take it as it comes and enjoy it. It's not about setting a goal and getting to that point; it's about enjoying the journey."
"Unless one team breaks away, and I can't see that happening, it's going to be a hard fight all the way," Button admitted. "So, yes, I think it will be a very special championship to win. If you cross the line you'd be thinking not just, 'I'm world champion,' but 'I did it in a year when there were a lot of very competitive cars and drivers.'"
If either of them does win at home next weekend, it will take them another major step closer to that milestone.
Home winners of the British Grand Prix
*Lewis Hamilton Finished 68 seconds ahead of Nick Heidfeld to win in 2008.
*David Coulthard Successful at Silverstone in 1999 and 2000.
*Johnny Herbert Victory in 1995 was his first Grand Prix win.
*Damon Hill Saw off the challenge of Jean Alesi to win in 1994.
*Nigel Mansell Victorious in 1986, 1987, 1991 and 1992.
*John Watson Won his first race for five years at the 1981 event.
*James Hunt Finished ahead of the previous year's winner, Niki Lauda, in 1977.
*Jackie Stewart The 'Flying Scot' won the race in 1969 and 1971.
*Jim Clark The Scot won an astonishing five British Grands Prix in six years; 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1967.
*Peter Collins Headed an all-British podium finish in 1958.
*Stirling Moss Recorded his first Grand Prix win at Aintree in 1955, and shared duties with Tony Brooks to win in 1957.
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