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Button: Hamilton was a "weird" teammate


For British F1 fans, when world champion Jenson Button joined forces with fellow world champion Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2010, it was seen as the possible beginning of a new golden era for a country that had already produced eight world champions who had won 12 titles between them.

While the partnership was successful, Button finishing runner up in his second season at McLaren, it never fully lived up to expectations.

Reflecting on his time alongside Hamilton, Button, who had known his fellow-Briton from his Karting days when his father John would service the Stevenage Rocket's engines, the 2009 champion, while acknowledging his teammate's undoubted talents, admits to finding him weird.

Describing Hamilton as "one of the greats" in his long awaited autobiography, Life to the Limit, Button writes: "Of everybody on the grid, he's the guy who really has that 'gift'."

However, ahead of his move to McLaren, Button admits he was warned about Hamilton, not merely in terms of his talent, but his insistence to have the team focus on him and his wants.

"Personally, he was fine with me," writes Button, "no issues at all at this stage of the game, but you could just tell he was a little bit peeved.

"That thing about it being his team? It was right on the money," he admits. "And, if you ask me, he was finding it difficult to get a handle on the fact that it was our team now."

As he headed to Woking, Button was also warned that the corporate, grey philosophy of the team might not be to his liking, the Briton admitting he was "worried the atmosphere might be a bit lacking".

"So it was good that we were able to come in and lift the place, add a bit of much-needed levity," he reveals. "But I'm not sure that was to Lewis' taste. I don't think that I was to his taste, if I'm honest.

"As people, we had a lot in common. There was our shared karting history, not to mention the fact that his dad was a customer of my dad. And, unlike a lot of drivers in Formula 1, neither of us came from an especially wealthy background; we'd achieved what we had through talent and a lot of grafting."

Referring to the popular Tooned cartoon series McLaren was running at the time, while the cartoon suggested a playful atmosphere between the pair with lots of banter, the reality was different.

"It portrayed us as bantering rivals," say Button. "The rivalry was real, but there wasn't a great deal of banter."

Explaining why he moved to McLaren in the first place, what with Hamilton having been with the F1 team since 2007 and supported by the team since his early teens in Karting, Button writes:

"By 2009, I'd been eyeing up McLaren's car, and I wanted Lewis as a team-mate. You could come up with all sorts of psychobabble reasons why I wanted to partner him, but it would boil down to just one: I am a sportsman. I feed off competition and I wanted to pit myself against the fastest driver on the grid. I wanted to see if I could beat him.

"Lewis was very friendly and welcoming, and presumably confident enough in his status at the team that he didn't need to feel put out - at first, anyway.

"Midway through that first season, I was ahead of Lewis in the points. Did he like being beaten by his teammate? Probably not, but he's a competitor and I'm sure that like me he relished the challenge. That's why we do what we do. Personally, he was fine with me, but you could just tell he was a little bit peeved. I don't think that I was to his taste, if I'm honest. And things took a bit of a turn for the worse in Turkey, when we almost had a collision that led to a minor falling-out between us.

"We were on course for a one–two, so with the lead to ourselves, I closed in on him until we were just a second apart. What I didn't know was that he was being asked to conserve fuel. As I came up behind him he radioed in to his team, saying, "Jenson's closing in on me. If I back off, is Jenson going to pass me or not?"

"No, Lewis, no," came the reply.

"But of course I didn't know any of that, and slipped past him. That made him mad and he came back at me, pulling alongside and staying side-by-side as we roared through turns 13 and 14. Crossing the start–finish line you couldn't get a credit card between us.

"For a scary moment it looked like there might be a double-wipe-out as our tyres rubbed coming through turn one, but he managed to get past me to claim the win, me in second.

"On the podium there was what the media called some ‘frosty' body language and a ‘muted' celebration. In fact, he came straight out and asked me about it: "Did you pass me against team orders?"

"He was the winner. Jesus. "No," I told him, "I did not pass you against orders. I was never told not to pass you."

"That sent him off thinking that the team were taking my side against his, though he never did explain why they would want to do that, given that we were on course for a one–two and, apart from our respective race engineers, nobody in the team would give a flying f*** who came first and who came second.

"It was a bit weird, slightly unnecessary and a little more proof that all was not well behind the smiles."

"In 2012, at Spa, I stuck the car on pole, while Lewis qualified seventh. He'd been using the old rear wing, whereas I'd gone for the new wing. Afterwards, and I didn't find this out until later because I'd never got round to following him on Twitter, Lewis tweeted: 'Damn WTF!! Jenson has the new rear wing on, I have the old. We voted to change, didn't work out. I lose 0.4 tenths just on the straight'

"There were a couple more tweets as well, the final one being a show of support for me, which was decent of him. So far, nothing much to see here. Personally I wasn't gasping in horror concerning his use of ‘WTF'. I like to see drivers expressing themselves.

"That would be the end of our story were it not for the fact that the next day he tweeted a screengrab of our respective telemetry – in other words our technical readouts – which showed his lack of straight-line speed compared to mine. Quite what was in his thinking, I couldn't say. Certainly any displeasure he was showing was aimed at the team, not me, but I ended up being collateral damage because you don't make telemetry public. You just don't.

"The screengrab showed the kind of things you work hard to keep hidden from your rivals. I made my feelings known about that. The official version was that I was "disappointed". Had I gone with my unofficial reaction it would have made ‘WTF' seem very tame indeed. But at the same time I knew it wasn't personal. Bit dumb maybe. But not an ‘I hate Jenson' thing so much as an ‘I'm fed up with McLaren' thing.

"Later in the season, it was officially announced, that Lewis was leaving to partner Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. That was a shame for me; I'd enjoyed our rivalry. Off the track, however, he was still being a bit weird.

"After Japan, he had another one of his weird Twitterfart moments," reveals Button: "Just noticed @jensonbutton unfollowed," he wrote. "That's a shame. After 3 years as teammates, I thought we respected one another but clearly he doesn't."

"Of course the flaw in his logic was that I'd never followed him in the first place so could hardly be accused of lacking respect by unfollowing him. And, anyway, I did respect him.

"Fair play, he realised his mistake and put it right: 'My bad, just found out Jenson never followed me. Don't blame him! Need to be on Twitter more!'"

"Needed to be on Twitter a bit less, if you'd asked me," suggests Button.

Despite it all, Button concludes that Hamilton is "a brilliant, mercurial driver", but "unpredictable".

Admitting that "despite our similarities, we were never really friends" Button concludes: "He's matured, become a bit of a statesman and a great representative of the sport."


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1. Posted by F1Doppelganger, 20/10/2017 13:06

"I don't think drivers should be sat alone at the front or mingling and chatting to each other on the lap. They should be standing facing outwards acknowledging and waving to the fans all the way around the circuit. That seems like the kind of thing that Liberty would want to happen but there's no sign yet. maybe it will be part of the "show" once F1 has become WWF1 with 25 street races, non of which are in Europe......."

Rating: Positive (1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

2. Posted by ryanhellyer, 18/10/2017 0:53

"I find it fascinating to hear the stories of retired drivers. Eddie Irvine has revealed some really interesting stuff lately too. I suspect Alonso and Hamilton will have some interesting stories once they're retired as well."

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3. Posted by mickl, 17/10/2017 15:45

"Anyone else notice that whenever you see the drivers parade lap on the back of a lorry or in a driver's briefing Lewis is either sat apart or stood apart from the other drivers who seems to be mingling and chatting to each other?"

Rating: Positive (2)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

4. Posted by FormerF1Fan, 17/10/2017 8:10

"I think Button is being very benevolent and generous with his choice of words, limiting himself to "weird"..."

Rating: Negative (-1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

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