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