Jenson Button hails Lewis Hamilton as 'one of the quickest drivers ever' in F1
Pair were team-mates for three years at McLaren; Hamilton's response to 2014's adversity impresses Button
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 15/09/14 11:40am
Jenson Button has lauded Lewis Hamilton as "one of the quickest drivers ever to jump into a Formula 1 car" and praised his former team-mate's resilience and maturity during an often turbulent and controversial 2014 campaign.
After partnering Hamilton for three years at McLaren following his 2009 title success with Brawn, and with more than 250 races under his belt, few are better placed to assess Hamilton’s standing in the F1 pantheon than the 34-year-old Button.
While Ferrari's Fernando Alonso - his reputation further endorsed by his devastating thrashing of Kimi Raikkonen this term - is frequently recognised as the leading all-round package in F1, few would argue against Hamilton being considered the fastest driver in the sport. But Button's accolade sparks an altogether more intriguing debate: just where would Hamilton be placed in an all-time list of the fastest F1 speedsters?
"For me he is one of the quickest drivers ever to jump into a Formula 1 car," Button told Sky Sports F1 at Monza. "His natural ability is probably better than anyone in terms of outright speed."
Yet, as Button’s own battles with Hamilton eloquently testify, there is far more to driving well in F1 than just driving quickly. While Hamilton had the edge over Button in two of the three seasons as team-mates, Button marginally out-pointed Hamilton in a cumulative count over their three years together.
"We all know F1 isn’t all about natural ability, it is how you build on your natural ability and also how your engineering skills are and how you can work with hundreds of people within a team to develop a car," added Button.
But are those skills that Hamilton himself has learnt to embrace since breaking out of the proverbial family nest at McLaren for a fresh challenge at Mercedes? Derided and denounced at the time, Hamilton's decision to defect to Mercedes has since proven to be an inspired choice. Button hasn't won a grand prix in the period since while Hamilton and Mercedes new team-mate Nico Rosberg remain locked into an exclusive fight for the World Championship. Yet, according to Button, it isn't only on the track where Hamilton has prospered since his transfer.
"He seems very comfortable in himself which is not the Lewis I knew when we were team-mates," said Button. "He seems to be taking the problems that he has had on the chin. I don't know if it is just a front or if it is that he feels confident inside that he can still come back from these problems and fight for the World Championship. I really think that he can."
Hamilton himself has previously expressed his own effusive admiration for Button. Ahead of the veteran's 250th grand prix in Bahrain this year, Hamilton admitted he was in awe of his former team-mate’s achievement.
"I have a huge amount of respect for Jenson, watching him come back every year, to have that motivation, because as you get older it gets harder," said the Mercedes driver.
"It gets harder to train, even for younger people, and every year it gets harder and harder to challenge, and how you spend your energy is different every year. Yet every year he is on it, focused, and especially this year as his dad's not with him, who has been with him all these years.
"Even so, he is still there, still working away, and I take my hat off to him. He's a great athlete. I can only hope and dream I get to have as long and as successful a career as he has had."