Formula One 2010: The best of British
The lights will go green next week and it promises to be an incredible season. Our two world champions – Button and Hamilton – need some luck but they cannot wait to lock wheels with Schumacher again
Both of them love the idea of racing against Michael Schumacher, but neither Lewis Hamilton nor Jenson Button is letting the prospect rule his head.
Speaking during a relaxing karting event in London last week, each said they had personal reasons for looking forward to racing against the man who won 92 grands prix and seven World Championships before retiring in 2006, but that he would be "just another driver" when they are all out on the track together.
Button has raced Schumacher many times during his career, notably when the BAR Honda team were at their most competitive in a 2004 season when the Englishman was the prime opposition for Ferrari.
"It's exciting that Michael is coming back," he said, "and I love racing against Lewis, Fernando, Sebastian, Mark, Felipe, whoever. Michael's return is a big point for Formula One, because he's achieved more than anyone else, he's the most famous."
Button does not believe that Schumacher will be running round with a target on his back. "He's not the only driver. It's exciting to have him back, but you don't look at him any differently to the other quick guys. Fernando [Alonso] won his two World Championships when Michael was still racing. His presence adds to the excitement, but it would still be a fantastic season if he wasn't here."
Hamilton has never raced Schumacher, and made no secret of his disappointment that the German's F1 career ended just as his began. "It's fantastic for the sport that he's coming back, especially in a world that's just gone through such a tough year," he said. "We've got the most competitive year coming up, and he's the icing on the cake. His return should bring back a lot of fans. And he looks fit."
Hamilton talked of a papaya-orange McLaren F1 he has been promised by team bosses Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh if he wins three World Championships. When considering Schumacher is 41 years old, he joked: "If McLaren want to keep me for that long I'll race till I'm 60 if my heart'll take it, just to get that car. I love it!"
Hamilton also puts Schumacher's return in a race driver's perspective. "On paper, racing him adds to it, but in practice you see every driver as a driver. You see someone out on the track, you think to yourself, 'OK, that's Fernando, he's one of the best.' But that's about it. But [Schumacher] adds to the show. I don't think anybody will be gunning for him, it's just good to have another top driver to make up for Kimi [Raikkonen] leaving."
Hamilton steered adroitly around the subject of the dirty tactics which have sullied Schumacher's reputation. "Everyone has his own opinion about Michael's past. This is like his second chance, his second stab at it. You can't pre-empt what he's going to do. Maybe he'll do his best to correct things he did, or didn't get to do, in the past."
Hamilton knows a bit about personal redemption after his problems with the stewards in Australia and Malaysia last year, and while denying that he ever considered leaving McLaren, he admitted that he will steer clear of controversy himself.
"I care about how people perceive me. I did worry whether I should be in the sport, rather than about not being in this team. I knew I wanted to do it, I love racing, but sometimes it's hard to face the music, to face people. To know that as soon as you turn your back they will talk about you. To feel that whenever you walk into a room... I didn't feel positive energy in those situations, I felt negative energy and I didn't like that. But slowly I realised I had a lot of support. I never want to be in that position again, I'm not going to put my hand out again to the dog that bit me. But I love winning, and I love this sport."
So far he and Button have been getting on famously, and seem to have the same ideas about improving their McLaren MP4-25, which was very fast in the final test in Jerez recently.
"The first few laps will be very difficult," Button said when asked what it will take to win in 2010. "You are going to have to look after your tyres. It's going to be easy to make a move but if you destroy your tyres on lap four, you're going to be screwed for your first stint. Strategy is going to play a big part; but unlike the past you cannot plan things before the race.
"Your engineers will need to be on their toes, able to plan and react during a race. They'll need a good understanding of the situation around you in a race, and now it's more an enduro than a sprint, and one little slide early on can ruin your tyres. It will be important to finish every race. It's going to be a great season, but a long one."
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