Bri­ton knows he has a fight on his hands to se­cure a fourth F1 ti­tle FER­RARI HAS UPPED ITS GAME

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By Rob Lad­brook

Reign­ing world cham­pion Lewis Hamil­ton be­lieves Fer­rari is a gen­uine threat to his Mercedes team this sea­son.

Hamil­ton goes into this week­end’s cur­tain-rais­ing Aus­tralian Grand Prix in Mel­bourne on the crest of a wave, hav­ing swept all be­fore him across two sea­sons of dom­i­nance in his works Sil­ver Ar­row.

The Bri­ton has taken 21 race wins over the last two sea­sons, al­most dou­bling the tally from his other seven years in the sport, as Mercedes has en­joyed a com­fort­able per­for­mance cush­ion over its ri­vals dur­ing the V6 hy­brid power unit era.

This year Hamil­ton is shoot­ing to be­come the first Bri­tish driver ever to lift a fourth F1 world cham­pi­onship crown, hav­ing equalled Sir Jackie Ste­wart’s tally last term. The early signs from test­ing are en­cour­ag­ing. Mercedes recorded al­most a third more mileage than any of its clos­est ri­vals, and the team has been open in ad­mit­ting it did not chase out­right lap time, rather pre­fer­ring to tick off re­li­a­bil­ity and con­sis­tency work.

But per­haps the most no­table as­pect of test­ing dur­ing the ses­sions at Barcelona was the pace of Fer­rari. The Scud­e­ria topped the times on six of the eight days, and its race sim­u­la­tion runs were closely com­pa­ra­ble to Mercedes’ when on the same tyres.

Hamil­ton be­lieves he will have a fight on his hands this sea­son, and he’s rel­ish­ing it. “Fer­rari seem to have done a re­ally good job this year,” he said. “They’ve been chas­ing and chas­ing and have made a lot of im­prove­ments over last year, and they may well be ahead of us, we don’t know. What we do know is that we def­i­nitely have a good race on our hands this year.

“I’ve en­joyed the last two years, ob­vi­ously, and I haven’t been on my own at the front as I’ve al­ways had Nico [Ros­berg, team-mate] there to push me. But you do want to race against other teams and driv­ers, and Fer­rari did have to up their game and I be­lieve they have.

“Our car is very good this year. It feels much like last year’s but an im­prove­ment in ev­ery area. Peo­ple have looked at test­ing and said we’ll walk it again, but I think most of that is just see­ing a few num­bers and not hav­ing the real facts. We know our ca­pa­bil­i­ties and can only cal­cu­late where they [Fer­rari] are, and we know it’s close. Fer­rari is go­ing for blood this year, that’s clear, and we need to stay hum­ble in our ap­proach and not take things for granted.”

Mo­ti­vated to win

Hamil­ton achieved a mile­stone in his ca­reer last sea­son. By lift­ing his third world cham­pi­onship, he equalled the record of his sport­ing hero Ayr­ton Senna.

The win ra­tios be­tween Hamil­ton’s and the great Brazil­ian’s ca­reers are also very sim­i­lar – with Hamil­ton’s 43 wins from 167 grands prix now hav­ing sur­passed Senna’s tally of 41 from 161 starts.

Hamil­ton in­sists that achiev­ing his ca­reer goal of em­u­lat­ing Senna hasn’t di­min­ished his mo­ti­va­tion to achieve more.

“This year I’m go­ing into the

un­known,” he said. “Ev­ery day I pinch my­self to think I’ve done what I have, achieved what I have. Ev­ery day as a kid I used to come home from school and put on a tape and watch Ayr­ton. It’s crazy to think we have sim­i­lar records, but he still has more poles than me [65 to Hamil­ton’s 49] so there’s still a tar­get there.

“But for me it’s now see­ing how far I can go. Peo­ple say to me ‘do you want to em­u­late Se­bas­tian Vet­tel or Michael Schu­macher?’ But that’s never been my goal. I don’t know how long I will keep driv­ing, or how long I will be as good as I have been. So I have to give ev­ery sea­son all I’ve got to see what hap­pens.

“I feel fan­tas­tic for this sea­son and I’m pumped to get back rac­ing. Hav­ing three ti­tles al­ready also doesn’t come into my thoughts once the sea­son has started. Hon­estly, ev­ery year, since I won my first cham­pi­onship, it al­ways just restarts. There’s never a ‘Hey, I won the cham­pi­onship last year so I can play it cool this year’ men­tal­ity. When I go into the first race I don’t feel like I have three world ti­tles, I feel like I have none and I want to have all of the rest of them. Now it’s about go­ing out and rais­ing the bar even more. That’s sport, and it’s about how you raise your game.

“Even af­ter last year there are still a mil­lion ar­eas that we could im­prove on, things that could be done bet­ter. You’re never per­fect. I’ve never had a prob­lem with mo­ti­va­tion, it’s in my blood and I’m thank­ful for that.”

Team-mate chal­lenge

Hamil­ton will again en­ter the world cham­pi­onship know­ing that, if Fer­rari isn’t on the pace, his num­ber one ri­val will again be Ros­berg.

The two have had a tem­pes­tu­ous re­la­tion­ship over the last two sea­sons as they have vied, largely un­ri­valled, for the ti­tle against each other.

De­spite be­ing 2-0 up af­ter re­cent sea­sons and hav­ing al­most dou­ble Ros­berg’s win tally in their time to­gether, Hamil­ton says he can take noth­ing for granted.

“Nico has beaten me on sev­eral oc­ca­sions so he ob­vi­ously has the abil­ity,” he added. “Of course I will do my best to stay ahead, but him beat­ing me isn’t un­heard of.

“When you’re in F1 you’re al­ways push­ing, push­ing against your team-mate. It’s like hav­ing a trainer in the gym, some­body who pushes you to do an ex­tra rep, that’s what your team-mate does, pushes you to find that ex­tra per cent or so.

“Nico and I are both pulling in the same di­rec­tion. I re­mem­ber hav­ing Fer­nando [Alonso and Mclaren 2007] and he wanted one thing and I wanted an­other so we had two dif­fer­ent re­sources in the team go­ing in dif­fer­ent ways, which is dif­fi­cult for a team.”

Hamil­ton also down­played the sug­ges­tion that the resur­gence of Fer­rari could place ex­tra con­se­quences on an intra-team bat­tle with Ros­berg: “There’s noth­ing ex­tra to think about [when bat­tling with Ros­berg]. Both Kimi [Raikko­nen] and Se­bas­tian [Vet­tel] are go­ing to be there, but it could be ex­cit­ing be­cause they could split us, or even be ahead of us. It’s then up to us as driv­ers to split them.

“I’ve been work­ing very hard with my en­gi­neers to be as ready as I can be for this sea­son. But most of all I’m ex­cited for the fans be­cause I hope we can give them a much more ex­cit­ing sea­son than they’ve had re­cently, and that’s the goal. To give them ex­cite­ment, over­tak­ing, and a real bat­tle.”

Hamil­ton: threats from Fer­rari and Ros­berg

Fer­rari has been fast so far

Pho­tos: LAT

Mercedes has best mileage pre-sea­son

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