Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button's so-far good relationship at McLaren will be tested to the limit in 2011 if the pair start getting involved in tense battles for track position, reckons former racer turned TV commentator Martin Brundle.
McLaren has so far managed to keep a strong bond between its two British drivers – although tensions did erupt briefly at last year's Turkish Grand Prix when Hamilton accidentally thought that Button had overtaken him against team instructions. Although that was the only real flashpoint between them as Button struggled to match the qualifying form of his teammate, the 2009 World Champion's winter preparations and a big push to improve his single-lap pace look set to help move him forward this year. If successful, that could result in more wheel-to-wheel battling with Hamilton.
Brundle reckoned that there could be more difficult times for McLaren if Button does start mixing it on track with Hamilton.
"I think Jenson matched Lewis better than many expected," said Brundle. "The two victories he had were tremendous victories, and anybody would like those on their résumé. Lewis is possibly the faster of the two in absolute raw speed, but Jenson was the man who got 49 laps on a set of tires in Abu Dhabi that most parked after 11-15 laps.
"He has a way of finessing the car. I love watching him drive, because he has such an economic way to drive an F1 car, which gives Jenson a problem when the car is moving around because that is not his style. If he sorts out his qualifying, he will give Lewis even more of a hard time.
Lewis was pretty much on top by the end of the year, but we haven't seen them in a head-to-head. They are quite good mates, but there is no point being that much of a friend with your teammate – or any other F1 driver for that matter – that you are competing against. So when we see them in an absolute head-to-head I think we might find a different dynamic between the two.
"If you look back to the Istanbul race and remember Lewis' face on the podium when Jenson had passed him and he wasn't expecting it, I think that is a little taster of what might happen there."
Brundle also believes that this year's title battle will be as close as last season's, even though a more mature Sebastian Vettel and experienced Red Bull Racing team could deliver a dominant campaign.
"Winning a World Championship in consecutive years has proven to be quite difficult in the 60-year history of F1, but [Vettel] has got all the hallmarks – he is a good qualifier and a good racer. If you analyze 2010, but for some unreliability and some impetuous driving, he could have had that sewn up by September, so it is pretty obvious, I must accept that. But [there is] Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, the list goes on. Mark Webber will come back stronger than ever, but I think Sebastian Vettel will be harder than ever to beat for Mark.
"If Adrian Newey works his magic again then Vettel could be a very, very strong contender but there are so many changes for 2011 - KERS is coming back, the adjustable rear wing and by far the biggest is Pirelli. It will take them a little time to get their compounds and constructions right so we could see a very variable set of results in the first few grands prix."