Jenson Button can boost his chances of taking the fight to Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2010 if he establishes strong ties with the men he will work most closely with as soon as he can. That is the view of former grand prix driver Johnny Herbert (left), who thinks his own experience of going up against Michael Schumacher at Benetton in 1995 has taught him the importance of building up good relationships with team staff.
"The biggest thing I would say to Jenson is to just settle as quick you can – and make the biggest effort now to integrate with all the people, and all the personnel," Herbert told AUTOSPORT. "Now is key to getting those relationships early and positive.
"If you get them early and positive, it is something you will feel can help take you forward. That energy will bounce back off everyone – but when I was there [at Benetton] with Flavio [Briatore] it bounced and then ricocheted – and then always missed me! That is F1. That is what it is like.
"It is never easy – and it is not going to be easy for Lewis either. He has got the World Champion coming in, and he is going to want to beat him – and equally so the other way around. Jenson has to get those relationships sorted early – that is key."
"McLaren will give both drivers equal cars for sure," he said. "But it is just those little mental things that can make a difference. Lewis is in his team, and I know the team is going to try as hard as it can, but these little things can be quite sensitive sometimes to a driver. Fernando Alonso at McLaren provides the perfect example. He went there as a double World Champion, thinking he was the best driver out there and that he was going to win it easily. And, of course, he didn't.
"The positive for Jenson will be that his championship is out of the way. The pressure is off. He has done what he needed to do. He can go out there, and try and defend it in a much less stressful way. He has had the stress of trying to win a championship and not knowing if he is going to win it, or everything that is going with it. That has gone now – he has won it, he has done it, and now he can actually go out there and enjoy it.
"Hopefully, early in the season – perhaps in testing – the way he is going to get that team working around him, that nucleus of his engineer and his crew, is to go out there and take it to Lewis. It is well within him to do it. The speed we know is there but he has to go out there and almost prove a point again.
"It is quite funny how that situation comes about – where he has to go in there and prove himself again as a World Champion. It is going to be a very tough thing for all of them – Lewis, Jenson and McLaren. But it will be a good season."