Jackie Stewart hails Jenson Button
Stewart famously said last autumn that Button had entered a “lion’s den” in choosing to join McLaren, a team that brought Hamilton through the ranks of world motorsport and made him Formula One’s youngest ever world champion in 2008.
However, after two wins in his first four races for the team, Stewart says he was wrong about Button's move. “It is working much better than I think anyone could have expected,” said the three-time world champion, at the launch of Silverstone’s new Arena circuit on Thursday.
“I did say that Jenson would be walking into the lion’s den. What he has proved is that he can handle that den very well. That is not to say that he is better than Lewis or vice-versa, but Jenson is in that zone at the moment where he is making the right decisions at the right time.
“I think if he keeps driving the way he is I would have to say he is the favourite of the two.”
There have been suggestions this year that Hamilton’s state of mind is not entirely convincing; a much-publicised falling out with his father and a run-in with Australian police over a road traffic incident coinciding with some markedly below-par qualifying performances which have cost him valuable points.
Stewart, though, believes the 25-year-old is happy with the way he has been driving and does not anticipate any fireworks between the British pair.
“The drivers themselves seem to get on very well together,” he said. “There is a good communication there. If Lewis wasn’t driving fast enough or doing what he wanted to do, that would break his back, but at the moment he thinks he is actually doing quite well.
“I still think that Lewis is probably the better racer. Nobody can pass cars like Lewis can pass cars and he is going to win races this year, I have no doubt about that at all. But Jenson, at 30, is just the right age to have gained experience and knowledge and be able to apply it. And he’s doing that in a very smooth and calculated fashion.”
Silverstone’s new layout, which features six new turns and represents the first phase in a planned £40 million redevelopment, was opened with much fanfare by HRH The Duke of York who was then taken for a spin in a two-seater Formula One car by 1996 world champion Damon Hill, the president of the British Racing Drivers Club.
It capped a remarkable comeback for the Northamptonshire venue, which had lost the rights to stage the British Grand Prix only to strike a deal with commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone at the 11th hour after Donington’s bid fell through late last year.
"It's a necessary risk,” said Hill of the debts taken on to fund the redevelopment. “The alternative was that the British Grand Prix would have gone off the calendar. Now it's full-steam ahead. There's no way back from here.”