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Button, Perez start with a smile

2013-02-01 08:43

HEAD TO HEAD: Easy to identify - the 2013 McLaren race cars look the same on the track - so remember Perez has a yellow, helmet, Button the blue.

ALAN BALDWIN

WOKING, England - Lewis Hamilton's departure from McLaren has left Jenson Button with a more talkative and smiley team mate, Mexican Sergio Perez.

2009 World champion Button, who rubbed along with fellow Briton Lewis Hamilton without them being the greatest of mates, commented on the difference at the launch of the Formula 1 team's new cars on Jan 31.

"Checo (Sergio) has been around a lot this week, the last two weeks, which has been good," the 33-year-old told Reuters after pulling the covers off the MP4-28 alongside a team mate 10 years younger. "It's good to see he has really been getting into the spirit of McLaren and spending a lot of time here, either doing sponsor activities or developing his relationship with the team.

"When Lewis and myself were here together we never used to see each other. It used to be one day in the simulator and out the other."

CRACK SHOWING

McLaren was at pains during the Hamilton-Button years to present the pair as two team players, drivers who genuinely got along despite being highly competitive rivals. They certainly had a healthy respect for one another's talents and appeared together in commercials and as popular cartoon characters.

However cracks began to show during the 2012 season, particularly after 2008 champion Hamilton took to Twitter to complain - mistakenly - that Button had shown a lack of respect by apparently "unfollowing" him on the social media site.

Socially, their paths rarely crossed.

With Hamilton now at Mercedes, Button finds himself in the role of McLaren's established driver with vastly more experience than newcomer Perez. He said: "We've spent a couple of weeks here and it's been very useful to get to know each other but also for us to spend some time talking to the engineers and actually in the same room together discussing things.

"I don't know Checo that well but he is very excited, I can tell that. This is a huge challenge for him, as it is for all of us, to race for McLaren, and a great opportunity. It's good to see he is excited about the coming season."

Perez, with the smile of a man who has won the lottery and cannot quite believe his luck, felt he was getting on swimmingly. "I think he's a great guy," he said of Button. "He has a lot of talent, he's a great champion, I admire him a lot and have a lot or respect for him. I am really looking forward to learning from him and working with him.

"I think we are going to be good team mates."

Perez's confidence was evident, despite not having scored a point in the six races since his move to McLaren was announced last year, as he stood next to Button and declared the championship was his aim.

MOST EXPERIENCED

That's Button's aim, too, and this year, he agreed, was his best chance yet of adding a second title to his resume - not because of Hamilton's exit but because he simply had more experience of working with the team.

The Briton is now the most experienced driver in F1 in terms of races after starting out with Williams in 2000 and team principal Martin Whitmarsh saw that as a big factor in a team with two 'No.1' drivers'.

"He's a team player and he's a winner," he said. "People sometimes misinterpret Jenson, he's so laid-back and comfortable in his skin that you think 'has he got the hunger to do it?' But then you see what happens on the track."

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