Jenson Button wants Lewis Hamilton to have strong competition in 2020 to avoid an ‘easy’ World Driver’s Championship victory.
The 40-year-old has been impressed by his former team-mate’s dominance in the sport, but believes – and hopes – Ferrari duo Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc engage Hamilton in a ‘proper fight’ throughout 2020.
Button spoke exclusively to RadioTimes.com ahead of returning as a Sky Sports F1 analyst for the 2020 season.
He said: “I really hope [Hamilton] has competition this year. If he wins it this year and doesn’t have competition, it’s a shame because it’s a little bit too easy.
“I want to see the two Ferrari guys take it to Lewis and for them to have a proper fight. Not with gloves on or anything!
“I really do think Ferrari will challenge him, and that’s great. Lewis probably wants that, Lewis wants a fight not just from his team-mate but he wants a fight from another team.
“That’s such a cool way to win a championship by beating another manufacturer – that’s awesome.
The 35-year-old is on the verge of equalling Michael Schumacher’s legendary record of seven world titles, and while Button is impressed by his displays, he is reluctant to give sole praise to Hamilton for his achievements.
Button experienced a fractious relationship with Hamilton during their time at McLaren together, and while the Somerset-born star clearly respects Hamilton’s talent, he remained cagey when asked about whether Hamilton is appreciated highly enough by the British public.
“I don’t know, you probably know more than me. How many people do we need to speak to to understand what they think of him?
“I don’t think you can take anything away from him – to achieve that is phenomenal, but as I said you do need a team to do it with.
“Lewis has done a fantastic job over the last few years but you’ve got to hand it to Mercedes as well. To win every title since 2014, it’s crazy.
“You don’t win a world championship on your own, you win it with the team. And as a team, Lewis, Toto, everyone at Mercedes, they deserve everything they’ve achieved because they’ve done a fantastic job to consistently be at the front.”
Ferrari are likely to be the closest challengers to Mercedes’ dominance in 2020, and Button is relishing the prospect of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc hunting down Hamilton throughout the season.
“It’s a really important year for Sebastian after last year having a new guy in the team who is extremely quick and talented and loved by the Tifosi. I’m sure it was really tough for him, four-time world champion, the elder statesman in the team.
“If he comes out and thinks ‘you know what, I’m a four-time world champion, let’s get on with it’ then great. That’s the Sebastian we’ll have this year.
“He is going to be confident in his ability, Charles is through the honeymoon phase and Ferrari and has got to knuckle down. If they’re both competitive, they’ll be fighting for a world championship.”
With most partnerships in the elite teams of Formula 1, there is a pecking order, but who does Button believe will emerge as the victor from the Vettel-Leclerc battle in 2020?
“The one who scores the more points,” he joked. “But with those two? I don’t think there will be, they’ll both be winning races.
“Sometimes that’s a bad thing when you have two great drivers in your team because they take points off each other.
“When Lewis and myself were team-mates we took race wins off each other. If we didn’t we would’ve won the world championship. It’s a tricky one.
“But I was a team manager, team owner, I’d still rather have two good drivers in my team because they can work together, they’re both learning from each other, and they’re moving the car forward, progressing with the car.”
Button is keeping tabs on plenty of drivers away from Mercedes and Ferrari, with Max Verstappen also in his thoughts for the title if Red Bull can improve reliability on their car.
“[Verstappen] proved last year Red Bull can be competitive but he needs a car that can be competitive all year long.
“It was a very young relationship between Red Bull and Honda so hopefully they’ve improved because we’d love to see him up there fighting for wins on a consistent basis.
“That’s what the sport really wants and needs. Three teams fighting for a win is awesome, and we saw it in qualifying at times last year. You’d have a Ferrari on pole, Mercedes second and Red Bull third. That’s cool. We haven’t seen that for many years.”
The 2020 F1 season gets underway with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday 15th March live on Sky Sports F1.