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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
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

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum