Last Updated: 21/02/23 11:32am
Jenson Button expects Lewis Hamilton to put pressure on Mercedes team-mate George Russell by starting the 2023 Formula 1 season “flat out”.
Mercedes saw their streak of eight successive constructors’ titles ended last season by Red Bull, as they failed to deliver their drivers a car capable of regularly challenging world champion Max Verstappen.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton was surprisingly outperformed by Russell, who in his debut campaign with the team finished two places above his team-mate and also claimed their only victory of the season.
“Mercedes have given him a winning car for so many years,” Button, who was Hamilton’s team-mate at McLaren for three seasons, told Sky Sports News.
“Last year they obviously didn’t, but the car did win a race, so you’d say at the end of the year, they were strong.
“And I think Lewis was on it. His performances were very consistent through mid to end of season, very, very quick.
“I think he’ll start this year flat out. He’s going to be on it from the word go.
“I look forward to seeing that – it’s going to put a lot of pressure on George Russell, but I think it’s a good pairing and I look forward to that fight.”
Hamilton has repeatedly expressed a desire to extend his current contract with Mercedes, which is up at the end of the 2023 season, but Button has warned an uncompetitive car could alter the 38-year-old’s thinking.
“It’s something we all go through at some point in our career and it’s a reason a lot of people retire – because they’re not in a winning car anymore,” said 2009 world champion Button, who retired from F1 in 2016.
“That’s why I left. You can deal with the pressure you put yourself under and the calendar if you’re in a winning car. When you’re not, it’s like, ‘you know what, I’ve had enough, I want to get out’.”
Fellow British former world champion and Sky Sports F1 pundit Damon Hill believes Hamilton is fired up by the desire to seal his record-breaking eighth drivers’ crown.
“He’s thinking about retiring already. At 38, he’s already talked about being one of the oldest guys,” Hill told Sky Sports.
“You’re looking towards the end of your career – everybody knows that as a racing driver you can’t go on forever, but he’s so fit and committed and has kept himself in good shape.
“It’s the mind, it’s whether you’re mentally able to cope with getting yourself on a plane, getting to a hotel and going to a race when you think it’s probably not going to be a competitive car.
“That is the key. If that car gives him a sniff of a chance of victory, then he’ll be there. But it’s when it gets harder that it’s a bit more difficult to think long term.
“A racing driver needs a carrot, and the world championship is a big carrot, but the eighth world title for Lewis and that meaning that he is undisputedly the most successful Grand Prix driver of all time on championships – that is a huge carrot.
“I think he came out of not winning it in Abu Dhabi two years ago and he thought, ‘I’m going to get it back’. And I always think that ambition is burning very, very deep inside of him.”
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