F1 champion Jenson Button joins McLaren to form all-British lineup with Lewis Hamilton

By Rob Harris, AP
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

F1 champ Button teams up with Hamilton at McLaren

LONDON — Formula One champion Jenson Button signed with McLaren on Wednesday to partner with Lewis Hamilton, giving the English team a potent lineup for next season featuring the most recent title holders.

McLaren said Button signed a “multiyear deal” after leaving constructors champion Brawn GP in the wake of its takeover by Mercedes-Benz this week.

The 29-year-old Button, who is replacing Heikki Kovalainen, was out of contract with Brawn GP after capturing his first F1 drivers’ title last month and talks about a new deal had stalled. McLaren opted to sign the British driver instead of 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen — leading the Finn to announce he will take next year off after being let go by Ferrari.

Button had taken a significant pay cut to ensure he had a car for 2009 with Honda pulling out of the sport and reforming under Ross Brawn’s ownership.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said Button’s decision was “in no way motivated by money,” insisting that they were paying him “no more than he could be getting elsewhere.”

“Although I won the world championship with Brawn GP last year, and I’ll never forget that, I was always adamant that I wanted to continue to set myself fresh challenges,” Button said in a statement. “So that’s why I’ve decided to join McLaren Mercedes. You can’t help but be affected by this team’s phenomenal history.

“McLaren is one of the greats of world sport, and its achievements and list of past champions read like a Who’s Who of Formula One.”

Button said Wednesday that it is a “great pleasure” teaming up with fellow Englishman Hamilton, who won the 2008 championship.

“It’s fantastic that we’ll be forming an all-British lineup. I know that we both fly the flag with pride,” Button said. “Lewis has achieved an incredible level of success in a very short period of time, and he’s a wonderfully gifted driver who has earned the respect of every Formula 1 driver.

“I’m sure there’s plenty that we can learn from each other, and I’m really looking forward to using our combined knowledge to push the team forward.”

The last time a team had a pairing of two British world champions was in 1968 when Lotus united Graham Hill and Jim Clark, who both won two titles.

“I already know Jenson, and we get on very well together,” Hamilton said. “We both really want our team to succeed. Although we’ll be pushing each other hard, I’m sure we’ll very quickly establish a great working relationship.”

Button, who began his career at Williams in 2000, only joined the list of champions last month.

After fearing he wouldn’t have a team in 2009, Button took advantage of the Brawn car’s early dominance to win six of the first seven races and maintained a comfortable lead in the championship standings.

Button’s move to McLaren ends his seven-year association with the Brackley-based outfit, which he joined in 2003 when the team was known as BAR. He established himself as the team’s No. 1 driver before Honda’s takeover in 2006.

While Button’s McLaren will be adorned with No. 1, Hamilton, who won the 2008 championship, has been nurtured by McLaren for a decade since he was in karting.

Whitmarsh, who had to quell infighting between Hamilton and Fernando Alonso during the 2007 season, has no concerns about the partnership with Button.

“I’m confident that we’ll be able to successfully balance and harness Jenson’s and Lewis’ complementary skill sets,” he said. “Our engineers are already looking forward to working with Jenson, and I’m convinced that such a strong and dynamic driver lineup will make us an even more complete and competitive operation.

“Now we have to provide Jenson and Lewis with race-winning machinery.”

Hamilton had a difficult third season in Formula One with McLaren but had a strong last half of the year to finish fifth — 46 points behind Button.

“The results from the second half of 2009 speak for themselves, and I’m convinced we can carry that momentum through the winter and into the new season,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been closely following the development of our 2010 challenger, the MP4-25, and I think it’s going to be a state-of-the-art car that will enable both of us to consistently fight for victories.”

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