Jenson Button says Lewis Hamilton jibes are way off the mark

Former team-mates at war over criticism of the 'controlled' environment to be found at McLaren

Melbourne

Even before an engine has been started in anger in the new season, the tension between former team-mates Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton is growing.

The main focus will have been on Melbourne's Albert Park for the first official practice sessions, but Britain's top two drivers are embroiled in a war of words about Hamilton's time at McLaren.

Since moving to Mercedes at the start of the year, Hamilton has claimed he has been revelling in the freedoms that were not granted him at McLaren, where he spent 13 years, the last six of those in Formula One.

Earlier this week, he said: "I have come from a place with a lot of control, a really controlled environment where you are restricted to do and say what you are told."

Those comments left Button bemused and he was quick to counter the claim – and launch a thinly-veiled criticism of his old rival. "I was very surprised to hear that," he said. "The freedom you have in this team is phenomenal, and that doesn't just go for me.

"Mercedes can use revenue from their road car sales to fund their team, but at McLaren we have to work harder to cultivate and retain sponsors.

"Here you have to work harder. Initially, when I came to the team, it was a shock. You learn to understand and to adapt, that's the job. But in terms of what you can do as a driver, and the way a driver can help the development of a car, this team is amazing. Whatever your issues are you get help.

"I've heard so many rumours – and not from Lewis as such – and read so much about the way this team is, and it's so far from the truth."

Much has been made of the rivalry between Hamilton and Button despite the Mercedes driver saying recently that his former team-mate gets little of his attention. Hamilton claims he is more excited about his battle with Fernando Alonso, whom he clearly regards as his greatest rival.

However, Button's view is different. He said: "In F1 there's no place to be friendly with your greatest rival. Now that we aren't team-mates, we can be more ruthless in our on-track battles. It will be interesting to see how we get on. We had to hold back as team-mates, but it becomes very different when the other person is in a different camp."

Button claimed few accurate conclusions can be drawn about the strength of teams' cars from pre-season testing, a view shared by many in the paddock. He added: "Last year the form from testing proved completely wrong at the first race, and though Mercedes have been very fast over one lap this year, it will be very different today and they probably won't set pole position and win every race. I'm sure, for example, that Red Bull aren't really 2.5 seconds slower, as they were in testing."

Accurate calculation of rivals' speed was rendered difficult throughout testing by factors such as fuel load, with some cars running heavier than others. "The way in which Pirelli's new tyres degrade is also going to be crucial," Button said. "That has added to the difficulty we have all had in calculating where we stand against each other. Today we will at least start to get some real answers."

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg explained: "The new Pirellis are very different to their 2012 tyres. They slide at a certain angle and that's where the grip is best, but they also degrade strongly and it's a massive technical challenge for all of us to create a car that has less tyre degradation than everyone else. Last year that was one of our big weaknesses, but this year we have really improved."

After a difficult winter, McLaren believe that they will qualify here behind the Mercedes, driven by Rosberg and their former star Hamilton, while the Briton is in no doubt that Ferrari will be the strongest.

One of their drivers, Alonso, has said this year's Ferrari is "200 times" better than its predecessor, with which he fought Sebastian Vettel all the way for the 2012 crown. Now he has his sights set on matching the German's three titles and has even greater motivation after the pain of that narrow defeat.

"It's not difficult to start better than last year because it was difficult to start any worse," Alonso said. "We got a little bit too far behind. The winter has been much better than last year, understanding the car and working with it and getting the results we more or less expect.

"That will give us much more confidence and optimism to start the season, but who knows? I think it will be a very interesting championship, with a very challenging first part in Australia and Malaysia. Difficult circuits, difficult weather as well – changeable. So we need to start on the right foot and hopefully score some good points."

Vettel, meanwhile, was as frustrated as anyone else by tyre degradation on his Red Bull in testing, but remains motivated to win a fourth successive championship. "If there is a secret I think it's not to think about what happened in the last three years," he admitted.

"I think the first title was very, very special. After that I don't think you have that pressure any more. You've proved to yourself that you can do it. After that we had two fantastic years again, which were very different to each other. But you probably don't think about what happened last year or the last three years.

"We are here, we have zero points on our side at the moment, the same as everyone else. So everyone has the same opportunities. The cars didn't really change. Last year we saw it was very close, so I don't expect it to be any different. If anything, it will be maybe a little bit tighter. So it will be crucial to make the most out of every single race. In terms of motivation… it was a long flight but I'm happy to be here now and very pleased to start again."

The mood music coming from Hamilton suggests that he is also pleased to be starting again and re-engaging with his rivals. He has also highlighted the possibility of his new car not yet being up to scratch but the Mercedes team director, Toto Wolff, has made their targets quite clear. Repeating last year's total of one victory would not do. "We need more. And regular results," he said. "It is about having a steady season and being among the lead teams throughout."

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people

Sport
nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London