SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton says McLaren would be making a mistake to ditch his former team mate Jenson Button at the end of the Formula One season and should focus instead on building a better car.
“He’s still got plenty of time in his capability as a driver to keep racing and winning,” the Mercedes driver told reporters at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
“He just needs to be given a better car. It’s not the team need a better driver. There are not many out there. They need a better car,” added the championship leader.
McLaren have not won a race since Button’s last victory in Brazil two years ago and are believed to be close to signing Fernando Alonso from Ferrari for 2015, when they start a new partnership with Honda.
The Spaniard’s arrival is likely to signal the end of 2009 champion Button’s Formula One career, although Alonso was also supportive of the Briton.
“He’s a very talented driver, we’ve seen that throughout his career, and also he’s a very nice person,” the Ferrari driver told reporters at Interlagos.
“We need people like him in F1. I hope he will be here next year,” added the Spaniard, who also replaced Button at Renault in 2003.
Hamilton, who left McLaren for Mercedes at the end of 2012 after three years with Button as a team mate, agreed it would be strange to be left as Britain’s sole representative on the starting grid.
“It is (odd) when Jenson is better than most of the drivers. He’s a great driver. He’s had an amazing career, and he’s still one of the strongest drivers here, so it doesn’t correlate,” said the 29-year-old.
“If I had a team, I would want him in it. He’s a great asset for any team.”
“He’s also just a decent guy. I hope it’s not the case.”
Hamilton and double world champion Alonso were fractious team mates at McLaren in 2007, the Briton’s debut season, with the Spaniard leaving after just one year following a falling out with team boss Ron Dennis.
The two drivers get on well now with mutual respect for each other’s talents.
Hamilton’s relationship with Button was much better, however, with the older Briton pushing him hard throughout their time together and finishing ahead of him in the 2011 championship.
“I loved the three years I spent with Lewis,” Button said on Thursday.
“He was extremely quick and better than me in qualifying over the three seasons but I could really challenge him in the race — and a lot of the times I put him in his place in different situations and different conditions.
“That is what I miss more than anything else right now: the fighting for the win.”
Editing by John O'Brien