By Alan Baldwin
WOKING (Reuters) - McLaren boss Ron Dennis sang the praises of his Formula One driver line-up on Thursday and detected echoes of Ayrton Senna in Jenson Button's relationship with the team.
"In many ways there are similarities between Ayrton and Jenson," the 66-year-old group chief executive told reporters at a pre-season briefing at the McLaren factory in southern England.
"He is an incredibly good human being. He has principles and values. And the way that he conducts his life and his relationship with this team is right up there with some of the other great drivers who have been with us."
Brazilian Senna won his three titles with McLaren before he was killed at the wheel of a Williams in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. His death remains the last of a driver during a Formula One race weekend.
Button, the 2009 world champion with Brawn GP, is starting his fifth year with McLaren and has a new team mate in Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen following the departure of Mexican Sergio Perez.
The Briton's contract is up for renewal at the end of the season, when McLaren are switching from Mercedes engines to Honda power.
Dennis said Button, the most experienced driver on the starting grid in a career that dates back to 2000, was as fit as any rival and was also highly intelligent.
"Intelligence is going to become an absolute pre-requisite to cope with the complications drivers have in the car, the fuel management and tire management...it is going to require brainpower and dedication," he added.
"And then he's quick. He is capable of winning races and world championships...I'm extremely optimistic and I think he will be an incredible mentor to Kevin."
Magnussen is the son of former F1 racer Jan, who had a McLaren debut in 1995 and then moved to the Stewart team where his career stalled. He left after just 25 races with one point to his credit.
Formula One lore relates how Dennis, famously fastidious and with a meticulous attention to detail, mentally wrote off Magnussen senior when they were together at an airport and the driver had packed his passport in his suitcase.
When Magnussen opened it, the contents looked as if they had been thrown in by a petulant teenager.
"I had reservations," he recalled on Thursday when discussing the decision to sign Kevin. "I'm not a great believer in sons of drivers. Jan was a little bit untidy. He quite did my head in sometimes."
Magnussen junior, fortunately, is a very different individual.
Dennis said all the feedback from engineers was that he was an exceptional talent.
"He will have an exceptional career, I'm sure of that. He's got a steely determination. I don't think he's going to give when he gets a few knocks.
"He's certainly going to keep Jenson honest, that's for sure."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)