Hamilton in the mood to reclaim crown

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton looked uncharacteristically awkward on stage on Friday, as he and new team-mate Jenson Button pulled the wraps off McLaren's startling new car. While the current champion lapped up the limelight with an easy smile, his predecessor looked uncomfortable. But face to face, his own easygoing manner was unchanged as he spoke of the challenge of a returning Michael Schumacher and his old adversary Fernando Alonso, now at Ferrari.

Hamilton was not saying that he doesn't rate Button. Far from it. He revealed that he had suggested Button's name to McLaren team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, last year when the team were considering a replacement for Heikki Kovalainen.

"Jenson's the world champion," he said, making it clear that you have to respect anyone who bears that title. But when you have beaten Alonso in your rookie year of Formula One, you know in your heart that you don't have too much to fear from anyone.

"Fernando is the hardest competitor I've ever raced," he affirmed. "He's a double world champion, definitely the best I've ever competed against.

"Jenson is a great guy and we get on really well. He's a phenomenal talent and he's going to want to beat me and vice versa. We are going to push each other all the way. We both need to work as hard as we can to win. Maybe he'll win the first race, maybe I will. We don't even know yet if [the car will be competitive]."

And Schumacher? Will the uncompromising bully-boy tactics that stood him in such good stead against the likes of Damon Hill intimidate the man who really wishes he could have raced against his hero Ayrton Senna?

"You learn by driving with these people, how they react," Hamilton said. "He'll be tough to overtake but so was Fernando, so was Kimi. I've always looked up to Michael, he's a seven-time champion, and it's great he's back. It brings a new element."

But the message is: if I can beat Alonso, I know I can beat Schumacher, and it's not keeping me awake at nights. In private, Hamilton was relaxed and as hungry and aggressive as ever. Everything about his manner said one thing: I am going to win this year.