Lewis Hamilton wants a season-long world title joust with Sebastian Vettel, he said yesterday, declaring Ferrari as the team to beat in this weekend’s Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
Three-time world champion Hamilton said he would love a close battle with Vettel, who strung together four world titles with Red Bull before switching to Ferrari.
While Mercedes have dominated the last three seasons with Hamilton winning two titles, and Nico Rosberg last year before his shock retirement, the Ferraris were quickest in pre-season testing.
Hamilton said Ferrari were keeping a lid on expectations, but he would savour a battle with Vettel for this year’s world driver’s championship in the new quicker cars.
“I’ve not had a lot of battles with Sebastian on the track,” he said.
“Of course, I’d love to have that. I think the fans want to see that.
“You want to be racing against the best. That’s what the fans want to see.
“They want to see that close racing, that sheer competitiveness, see the ups and downs of the best doing the best. I hope there’s lots of close racing.”
Hamilton said Ferrari, who have not won a world constructor’s title since 2008, had the quickest car heading into Sunday’s Melbourne season opener.
“I see Ferrari being the quickest at the moment, and I think they’ll definitely be the favourites, but of course, we’ll find out more at the weekend,” he said.
Hamilton said the new car regulations would spice up this year’s world title race.
“Every year, your goal is to beat everyone,” he said.
“The more of a fight you have, the more satisfying it is when you’re victorious. We’re up for a challenge, and that’s what I’ve prepared for.”
“Doing drastic changes kind of spices it up. I’ve never seen fans so excited about a season as they are this season, being that it is we don’t know where the cars and the teams are.”
Vettel was cagier and said Mercedes and Hamilton were the obvious favourites for the season opener.
“Obviously, Mercedes has been in a very, very strong form the last three years,” the German said.
“Even with changes to the rules and regulations, if the team is strong then they will build a strong car the year after, no matter what they do.
“It is very clear who is the favourite. All of us are trying our best to catch up.
“How much we have succeeded we will see. As the season goes on, I’m sure the cars will have big progression.”
Vettel said pre-season testing lap times meant little heading into the first race of the new season.
“So far we don’t know anything, so it will be exciting to find out where we all are on Saturday and Sunday to get a first impression,” he said.
“Testing times don’t matter much, it matters much more what you show from here onwards.”
Hamilton played down the absence of Rosberg.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me whether the reigning champion is here or not,” he said.
Every year it’s a brand-new start, challenge and championship to win.
“You just want to beat whoever it is you’re up against.”