Button predicts 'epic' season
By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport in Bahrain
World champion Jenson Button admits he must hit the ground running in Sunday's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Briton won six of the first seven races for Brawn - now Mercedes GP - on his way to the 2009 drivers' crown.
But with former champions Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher in a strong field, McLaren's Button knows he has his work cut out.
"Competition is very fierce so it's important to be at the front in Bahrain," said the 30-year-old.
"You have to win as many races as you can to fight for the title."
Button dominated the start of last season, and those early wins became crucial as his form dipped by mid-season and his rivals caught up.
And he knows that the depth of talent on this year's Bahrain grid means that making a similarly strong start will be much tougher.
"Looking at this race, there haven't been this many competitive drivers for a long time," he added.
"This season should be electric for Formula 1 fans and being part of that is very special.
"Stepping into the car and seeing the number one is a special feeling, especially here at the first race but as soon as you put your helmet on and close your visor, last season is over."
Button begins the task of defending his title at McLaren in an all-English line-up with Hamilton, his predecessor as world champion.
An intense rivalry between the pair is widely expected to build as the season progresses but, for now, Button is focused on bringing success to McLaren, who have not claimed the constructors' crown since 1998.
Hamilton and Button are team-mates but title rivals
"Last year was not the best [for McLaren] and the team are hungry for a good season and success," he added.
"After two months, I feel part of this team. Moving teams, after seven years with my previous team, can be tricky but it's been good.
"It's important to use every minute that you're with the team. You have to be ready when you arrive here in Bahrain."
After a difficult start to 2009 with a McLaren that was off the pace, Hamilton is equally determined to start the new season in better fashion.
"I feel just as determined as ever if not more so," said Hamilton, who took the chequered flag in Hungary and Singapore last season.
"I finished on a high last season and hopefully this weekend is a new start for us and will be positive for me and Jenson."
While McLaren look set to start the 2010 campaign in better shape than last year after a positive showing in winter testing, Ferrari have emerged as the frontrunners.
Both new recruit Alonso and Felipe Massa, who is returning to racing after sustaining life-threatening injuries at last season's Hungarian Grand Prix, promisingly showed consistency and pace.
Alonso, the 2005 and 2006 champion, laid down his intentions for the weekend but also echoed Button's prediction of tight battle ahead.
Veteran Schumacher is used to being the centre of attention
"I'm ready to win," warned Alonso ahead of his first race for the Italian marque.
"I feel ready to fight and hopefully I'm in a position to do that. But we are not comparing the winter times too much or making predictions for the first races.
"Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari - any of these four teams could be favourites for this race or for the championship.
"We want to win the world championship in November, not March."
Schumacher remained circumspect about his victory chances this weekend for Mercedes, who won both titles last season in their former Brawn guise.
Schumacher delighted by fan reaction
The 41-year-old German, who won the 2004 Bahrain race, said: "It's difficult to say what the development is but it's a good thing that we will find some potential to improve."
He also said he was "proud" and motivated by the positive reaction his return to Formula 1 had produced.
"When I left I had the opinion like everyone else that drivers come and go - it's the nature of F1," he said.
"But seeing what impact my comeback has had, I'm very surprised - proudly so. I'd like to think everyone who has so much trust in myself, it's really motivating to see that."
The 2010 F1 field, which includes a trio of new teams in Lotus F1, Virgin Racing and Hispania, will take to the track for Friday's first practice which begins at 0700 GMT.