Lewis Hamilton likened himself to Roger Federer as he declared he should have “no problems” in beating Sebastian Vettel to this year’s Formula One world championship.
Despite completing fewer miles than any of his rivals during a weather-hit opening test in Barcelona, Hamilton ominously ended on top of the time sheets with the fastest lap of the week.
The 33-year-old British driver is gearing up for his assault on a fifth championship to join only Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher as drivers who have won the F1 title on more than four occasions.
Vettel upped the ante on Thursday by insisting that he is ready to end Mercedes’ dominance by clinching Ferrari’s first championship in more than a decade.
But a typically self-assured Hamilton, who produced some of the finest performances of his career to see off Vettel’s challenge with two rounds remaining last season, is confident of delivering the same punishment in 2018.
“I don’t focus too much on anyone else and my mindset is that if I am at my best then I should have no problems,” Hamilton said. “That is how I will approach the season.
“If I prepare the best, I am the fittest I can be, I have the most energy, feel healthy, come with the right approach and work hard, I truly believe I won’t have any problems. It is the same for a tennis player at their best. I am sure if you ask Federer he will believe that if he is playing hard and feels great there is no one that can touch him.
“You have to be convinced that is the case. I don’t prepare by hoping the other guy has issues so I can capitalise. I want him to be at his best so it is more painful when you do out-perform them.”
Hamilton will be partnered by Valtteri Bottas once more this season after the Finn persuaded Mercedes to extend his deal by one year.
Bottas spent his debut campaign as Nico Rosberg’s replacement firmly in Hamilton’s shadow and finished the season an eye-watering 58 points adrift of the Briton.
The 28-year-old however, has raised expectations this year by declaring he can defy the odds and beat Hamilton to this year’s championship.
“Do I think Valtteri will be harder to beat? No,” Hamilton added. “It is difficult coming to a new team, learning new ways and new controls.
“But he has got through the learning process so he will hit the ground running this year and there are no more excuses.
“He did a great job at the last couple of races in 2017, Do I expect him to be closer this year? I have to assume he is in the best shape possible, but so am I.”
Hamilton will return to action on Tuesday in the concluding four-day test at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya before opening the defence of his title in Melbourne on March 25.
Provided by Press Association Sport
World champion Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time of the week in pre-season Formula One testing on Thursday as Mercedes gave a powerful illustration of why they will once again be the team to beat in 2018.
After Wednesday’s testing at Montmelo was wiped out by the snow, Hamilton made up for lost time with a lap of 1 min 19.333 sec.
Thursday witnessed a bumper day of action as the snow and rain finally cleared with 1,101 laps racked up by the teams compared to 725 on Monday, 736 on Tuesday and just 17 on Wednesday, 11 of which were claimed by carefree two-time world champion Fernando Alonso in a McLaren.
Testing was briefly interrupted after Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Max Verstappen in a Red Bull went off the track and into the gravel.
Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1:19.333 (69 laps)
Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL/McLaren-Renault) 1:19.854 (110)
Sebastian Vettel (GER/Ferrari) 1:20.241 (120)
Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari) 1:21.317 (96)
Fernando Alonso (ESP/McLaren-Renault) 1:20.929 (51)
Carlos Sainz (ESP/Renault) 1:20.940 (60)
Lance Stroll (CAN/Williams-Mercedes) 1:21.142 (54)
Sergio Perez (MEX/Force India-Mercedes) 1:21.973 (65)
Max Verstappen (NED/McLaren-Renault) 1:22.058 (35)
Pierre Gasly (FRA/Toro Rosso-Honda) 1:22.134 (147)
Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Renault) 1:22.507 (49)
Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes) 1:22.789 (60)
Charles Leclerc (MON/Sauber-Ferrari) 1:22.808 (59)
Marcus Ericsson (SWE/Sauber-Ferrari) 1:23.825 (79)
Sergey Sirotkin (RUS/Williams-Mercedes) 1:31.979 (47)
It’s only three months since Valtteri Bottas won the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – and already the new Formula One campaign is nearly under way with pre-season testing taking place in Barcelona over the next two weeks.
While little change has happened on the driver side of things, the cars have certainly changed as Formula One unveils its first closed-cockfit F1 cars.
Here’s our guide to pre-season testing.
Where is testing held and what is the reason for it?
Testing will take place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – the same circuit since 1991 – with two three-day tests on consecutive weeks.
The first session is from Feb 26 – March 1, with the second being between March 6-9.
The reason for the venue choice is its closeness to where all of the teams are based, making it easy for equipment to be transferred to Spain.
The philosophy for the testing is to give the teams a chance to run their new cars for the first time – and to see the strengths and weaknesses of the machines ahead of the new season.
This in turn gives them a chance to make changes before the first race on March 25.
Will there be any new drivers competing in 2018?
Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Force India and Haas have all kept faith with their drivers’ line-up.
Williams will have the least experienced line-up, with rookie Sergey Sirotkin of Russia coming in for the retired Felipe Massa – and Lance Stroll retaining his seat.
Renault keep with the experienced Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz – who drove in the final four races of last season.
Toro Rosso have kept Le Mans 24 Hour winner Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly – both of whom are set for their first full season.
Finally, Sauber – with the backing of Alfa Romeo – have signed the highly-rated 20-year-old Charles Leclerc to partner Marcus Ericsson of Sweden for the new campaign.
What are the main changes this season?
The drivers are restricted to just three engines for the whole year – down from four in 2017.
Shark fins and T-wings have been outlawed for the new year – after only coming in last season.
And, the major talking point from the off season, is the Halo closed-cockpit protection device which has been made compulsory to give the drivers protection from flying debris on the tracks.
When does the season start and is there any new races?
The season will kick off in Melbourne, Australia on March 25.
Like last year, this will be the joint-longest season in history with 21 races across eight months – with Abu Dhabi, on November 25, once again hosting the climax.
The drivers will get a three-and-a-half week break between the Hungarian Grand Prix (July 29) and Belgian Grand Prix (August 26).
2018 sees the return of the French Grand Prix and the German Grand Prix for the first time since 2008 and 2016 respectively.
There will also be the first ever triple-header with the French Grand Prix, Austrian Grand Prix and British Grand Prix taking place across consecutive weeks.
Who is the favourite for the title?
Lewis Hamilton will go into the new season as the overwhelming front runner to win his fifth world title, but the key question will be which drivers can challenge the Brit.
With the new cars set to shake up the grid, F1 fans will be hoping the likes of Max Verstappen, Bottas and Sebastian Vettel can light up the circuit and challenge for glory.
There is a genuine feeling that Vettel can finally be a threat to Mercedes this time around – but will it be another case of early season optimism or can the German claim a fifth world title?
It’s now or never for Vettel – who turns 31 in July – and the new Ferrari SF71H is his best chance.
The same can be said of Hamilton’s team-mate Bottas.
The Finn had arguably his best season ever in 2017 with 13 podiums – including three wins – and grew in confidence and had more faith in his ability as the season progressed.
But will the 29-year-old sit back and let Hamilton dominate or will he finally step up and have a say in the championship race?
Expect Verstappen to have say in the title battle too.
The Dutchman had a torrid start to last season with seven retirements but finished strongly – and showed in Malaysia, Mexico, Japan and America why he has the potential to be a future world champion.
However, in order for Verstappen to make this dream a reality, he needs to be consistent across the season.