2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button has backed Lewis Hamilton to start the 2023 campaign “flat-out” and apply pressure to team-mate George Russell.
Hamilton endured a difficult year in 2022 – it marked his first year in the sport in which he failed to log a race victory.
Mercedes began the season far off the pace compared to rivals Red Bull and Ferrari, but made steady gains towards the end of the year.
Russell took the team’s only grand prix win at the event in Brazil, holding off Hamilton in the final stages to take the chequered flag.
Russell bested Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship too – however Button, who was partnered with Hamilton at McLaren for several years, believes his former team-mate will jump out of the blocks on form in Bahrain next month.
“I think Lewis was on it [in 2022],” Button told Sky Sports. “His performances were very consistent, mid-to-end of the season, very, very quick.
“I think he’ll start this year flat-out. He’s going to be on it from the word go, so I look forward to seeing that.
“It’s going to put a lot of pressure on George Russell, I think it’s a good pairing. But as I said, I think Lewis will be on it from the word go and I look forward to that fight.”
The Brackley-based squad is hopeful it will return to top form this year, having launched its 2023 W14 car last week.
Hamilton has asserted on multiple occasions that he is keen to remain with Mercedes beyond the end of his current contract, which expires this year.
However, Button suggested that should Hamilton continue to be delivered uncompetitive cars, he may opt to walk away from the sport in the near future.
“It’s something [not having a winning car] we all go through in our careers,” Button said. “It’s a reason why a lot of people retire, they are not in a winning car anymore. That’s why I left.
“You can deal with the pressure you put yourself under and the calendar, if you are in a winning car. When you are not, you are like ‘I’ve had enough, I want to get out’.
“Mercedes have given him a winning car for so many years. Last year obviously didn’t but the car did win a race last year, so you would say at the end of the year they were strong.”