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Lewis Hamilton may revel in new underdog status ahead of F1's first race
Until the final test of the winter in Jerez last week, McLaren had the relative performance of a milk float. The script has been spiked by Brawn GP. Jenson Button is the new Lewis Hamilton.

The radical rule shift, which ripped out an aerodynamic platform that had pretty much nailed the cars to the track in recent seasons, has thrown Button a career lifeline and reversed roles, for the time being at least, with Formula One's youngest champion.

It might be just the fillip Hamilton's public image needs. The sporting consumer loves a struggle against the odds. For some reason too many jurors have hold of the wrong end of the Hamilton stick.

They see not the miracle of his rise from the grand prix anti-culture of a Stevenage council estate, but a privileged upbringing within the McLaren fold.

A spell in Button's slipstream might not be the worst that could happen in Melbourne, since it might effect the correction required to bring perception into line with the Hamilton reality.

He is what he has always been; a dedicated, hard-working lad, who takes nothing for granted.

Before the McLaren embrace it was just Hamilton and his old man, five years of karting bricolage; all toil, spanners and hope. At 13 Hamilton passed into the McLaren academy and PR machine, set to parameters laid down by retired team principal Ron Dennis, a man who dealt only in 'appropriate forums' and for whom a word out of place was a sacking offence.

A dreadful fluency in 'Ronspeak' was the inevitable consequence of his immersion in McLarenland at a formative age. Martin Whitmarsh steps into the Dennis role with an opportunity to remodel a grey corporate facade designed to keep people at arm's length.

McLaren need to open the curtains, to let the people in, to make their story our story. They are a great racing institution. Hamilton is a fantastic driver and a top bloke. Yet the nation doesn't know him and that is a shame.

The rule-makers have done their bit to shift the ground. If the times set in winter are honest, Hamilton will need a miracle to get his nose in front in the opening race of the campaign.

His team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen, eventually closed to within four-tenths of Button's best time in Jerez, a blink of an eye in lay terms, a country mile in the F1 calculator.

Hamilton is fortunate that McLaren have the resources to right wrongs and the regulatory scope to spend their way back into the picture in a manner next season's proposed £30 million budget cap will not allow.

He will also benefit from the repeal of the scoring law that would have seen the driver with most race wins automatically crowned champion. So, not all dud news Down Under. Besides, every great champion needs an obstacle to overcome. And a rival.

Would equine deity Kauto Star be the revered beast he is were it not for the attentions of his stablemate Denman? Similarly how much more rewarding will the Premier League title be for the eventual winners for the oxygen given it by Liverpool's pursuit of Manchester United.

Button is Hamilton's Denman, his Liverpool. Nine years ago Button was the media novelty that Hamilton became after his penalty shoot-out success over Bruno Junqueira at a Williams test in Barcelona.

Button wasn't to know then that within the year a Colombian maverick laying waste to his rivals in America would bolt across the Williams radar.

The chance to run Juan Pablo Montoya in an F1 car was too good to pass up for a team owner who missed out on Michael Schumacher and, but for a tragically brief association, Ayrton Senna.

So Button was bumped off to Benetton, the first in a sequence of unfortunate events that, bar 2004 when he finished third in the championship with 10 podium finishes, have drained the momentum from his racing career.

Providence has dealt him a decent hand at last. He goes to Melbourne as the man to beat, alongside team-mate Rubens Barrichello.

At least until the protests start. F1 would not be the insufferable school playground it is were it not for some dispute or other over weights and measures.

Button's short-lived glory expired in 2005 in a row over the size of his BAR fuel tank. He was forced to sit out two races in the sin-bin, Barcelona and Monaco, as punishment.

This time Brawn GP's interpretation of rules governing diffusers, the aerodynamic device that channels airflow around the rear of the cars, threatens to bring the wrath of their rivals upon them.

Hamilton has known controversy of his own. There is a book, play and film to be made of the debut year he spent alongside former world champion Fernando Alonso in 2007. The Damned Disunited.

Hamilton spent much of last season in a paddock run by the friends of Alonso, a group of drivers loyal to the Spaniard and only too keen to see the Englishman deperched.

They were wasting their time. Schumacher did not win many popularity contests. Senna, too, was an acquired taste. It is in the nature of ultra-competitive beings to reach beyond the limits that ordinarily constrain humankind.

It is not normal to want to win as badly as these boys do. We are probably talking pathology of sorts. But this is the quality that makes them champions and us spectators.

This is where it all started for Hamilton, exploding off the Melbourne line two years ago to take Alonso on the inside into turn one. In a sense we are still catching our breath.

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