Jenson Button has admitted he is working to build a team around him at McLaren.
Even as reigning champion, when the Briton arrived at McLaren in 2010, paddock figures likened the move to entering Lewis Hamilton’s “lion’s den”. Less than three seasons in, Hamilton’s long McLaren relationship is set to terminate, with Button now insisting that he – and not Hamilton’s successor Sergio Perez – is the driver to bet on for 2013 spoils.
Speaking to the Brazilian sports daily Lance!, Button said: “There are a lot of smart people in formula one, which maybe is not so apparent from the outside.
“But it is a very competitive environment, and Fernando (Alonso) is one of those people.
“He’s been smart to build the (Ferrari) team around him, which is something we all strive for. I did it in my previous team (Honda/Brawn) and it’s happening here (McLaren) too,” said the 32-year-old.
Asked if he has taken another important step forwards with the impending departure of McLaren protege Hamilton, Button answered: “No comment.”
But he did admit: “It’s one less person in front of me.
“This year, I’ve had good race pace, but on Saturdays I’ve been usually second place at best.
“Next year I can be first. Race pace is my strength and I think there’s nobody better in that way. Qualifying is harder for me.
“If I have a car that works for me, I can put it on pole, but if the car is a bit more difficult then I end up behind Lewis.”
Meanwhile, whilst envying Alonso’s position at Ferrari, Button – who has in the past been linked with the great Italian team – said it would be hard to arrive at Maranello to be the Spaniard’s teammate.
“The impression I have is that you would get there and be very well received, but then Fernando would come in and start talking in Italian to the engineers,” said the Briton.