Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton said he shares a “great pairing” with Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The 34-year-old launches the latest defence of his title on the streets of Albert Park in Melbourne and is paired up with the Finn for the third-straight season in 2019.
Bottas had a torrid 2018 campaign, failing to win a race and finishing fifth in the standings, but Mercedes opted to stick with the 29-year-old.
Speaking ahead of the weekend, Hamilton said: “On the driving front, continuity is what works.
“We have a great pairing and the contribution Valtteri and I put together works, it’s worked well for years and there’s no reason to change it.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The former Sports Personality of the Year added: “In terms of the team, we’ve got so many incredible people within the team and the energy is really…it’s inspiring to see so many people so pumped, pulling together.
“Just after the test, I went back and Toto (Wolff, team principal) rallied the troops and we all sat together and it was really impressive to see so many people so passionate about their jobs and so passionate about racing.
“They’re the soldiers, they’re the real true fighters for the team and they’re giving absolutely everything to make sure we progress.”
Sebastian Vettel kept Ferrari on top on the final day of 2019 pre-season testing in Barcelona, and Hamilton said the results from Spain were clear.
“I don’t think it’s difficult to read it, it was quite clear,” Hamilton said. “However it’s difficult to know what everyone’s doing.
“Naturally we won’t fully know until we get out in the car tomorrow. Come qualifying you get a better picture.
“Usually over the first few races is where you really start to get an idea of where everyone stands. We said that we have work to do. We weren’t talking BS, we have work to do.”
Hamilton and Vettel will resume their rivalry, with the German looking for a third-straight victory Down Under on Sunday.
He admitted luck with the safety cars helped in 2018, saying: “We can’t do better than last year’s result, so it’s a tough weekend ahead of us.
“Always at the start you’re a bit nervous, you don’t exactly know where you are, you don’t know what’s going to happen but the spirit is good, the atmosphere is good, we’re happy to be here and start racing.”
The majority of the crowd will be backing Daniel Ricciardo in his new Renault over the weekend as he looks to end a 39-year drought since an Australian won a race on home turf.
He said: “I might need some help from some others this early in the season. They’re already kind of crazy, Australians, but if we could pull that off then lock your doors.”
The death of “irreplaceable” Charlie Whiting has cast a shadow over the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Whiting, who carried out a wide range of duties as the FIA Formula One race director, died on Thursday from a pulmonary embolism in the southern Australian city where he was due to work this weekend.
News of the Briton’s death filtered through the paddock at Albert Park on the eve of Friday’s first practice session, with seminal figures from motorsport among those paying tribute.
Christian Horner, team principal at Red Bull Racing, said Whiting was a man with “great integrity” and “performed a difficult role in a balanced way”.
He added: “Charlie has played a key role in this sport and has been the referee and voice of reason as race director for many years.
We are shocked and saddened to hear of Charlie Whiting’s passing and our deepest condolences go out to his family, friends and colleagues. pic.twitter.com/gRDunCfb72— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) 14 March 2019
“At heart, he was a racer with his origins stretching back to his time at Hesketh and the early days of Brabham.
“Charlie was a great man who will be sadly missed by the entire Formula 1 paddock and the wider motorsport community.”
Former world champion Mario Andretti said Whiting was “very possibly irreplaceable”.
He tweeted: “Totally shocking news of Charlie Whiting’s passing. Charlie was a true Giant in our sport and very possibly irreplaceable. Sincere condolences to his family and everyone who appreciated this man. RIPmyfriend.”
Several Formula One teams also paid tribute to Whiting after news of his death broke. Renault described him as “one of the pillars and leaders of the sport”.
“His drive to ensure exciting, safe and fair racing was unparalleled and his passion will be sorely missed,” Renault added.
McLaren driver Carlos Sainz added: “I always enjoyed a racing discussion with one of the most outstanding professionals in our sport. He will be very missed.”
Very sad and surreal news ahead the Australian GP. Can’t believe it..— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) 14 March 2019
My thoughts are with the family and friends.
He’s done so much for the sport we love.
Rest in peace Charlie#VB77 https://t.co/7N3GqTz8ec
Valtteri Bottas, teammate of Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes, tweeted: “Very sad and surreal news ahead the Australian GP. Can’t believe it.. My thoughts are with the family and friends. He’s done so much for the sport we love. Rest in peace Charlie.”
British racing driver George Russell, who competes for Williams, said he was “deeply saddened” by the news.
He tweeted: “Such a huge figure in the world of motorsport. All of my thoughts are with his family and his many friends right now. We’ll all miss him very much.”
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc said: “Horrible news from Melbourne. All my thoughts goes to Charlie’s family. The motorsport world will miss you. R.I.P.”
Changes tend to happen slowly in Formula One’s modern era, but one thing for certain is that Lewis Hamilton should clinch a sixth world title this season.
The Briton is operating in a class of his own at the top of the championship in recent years, as proven by his stunning 2018 campaign, when he won 11 times.
It can be argued that Sebastian Vettel’s errors effectively gifted him his the last two crowns, but then another side of it is, pressure was on both drivers, and Hamilton just purred with dominance, whereas Vettel buckled under the intensity of it.
It may not be until he retires that the Formula One public fully appreciate Hamilton as a driver. He’s different. He keeps to himself, rarely mixes with other competitors, has different interests, and enjoys the limelight more than any other person on the grid.
Whether that’s what people like about him or not, it doesn’t take away from his searing abilities on the track.
At 34, he has already cemented his status as one of the all-time greats after landing a fifth world championship in October – becoming just the third driver in history to do so – and should remain at the pinnacle of the sport until he chooses to retire.
He looked like a Gulliver in a field of Lilliputians at races in Germany, Hungary, Italy and Singapore last season – sometimes capitalising on Vettel’s mistakes and generally just driving the maximum out of a sizzling Mercedes car.
In the final drivers standings in 2018, the Stevenage native finished a staggering 161 points ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas. Another key point to underline how strong of a campaign he had, especially when his teammate drives the same machine.
The Finn will play second fiddle to Hamilton yet again, but will be expected to improve on his disappointing 2018 season or risk losing his seat at the end of 2019.
A new season beckons this weekend in Melbourne. In 2018, Vettel took advantage of the virtual safety car to beat Hamilton in the opening race.
And with Ferrari backing up its early season promise in pre-season testing, it is set up to be a thrilling season opener.
It is certain we will see signs of that Scuderia pace early on, but whether the Italian marque can carry it through the entire season remains to be seen. With Vettel determined to atone for last season’s errors and Charles Leclerc eager to prove his vast talents, the foundations are built for a fantastic championship battle.
Hamilton is at the peak of his powers and knows he is inching towards further history, but Vettel will be relishing the prospect of a more consistent title challenge in what looks like a pacy and well-balanced SF90 machine.
But the car can only count for so much, and this is where the confidence and composure to deal with pressure situations comes into the mix. It’s a long, gruelling season of 21 races, and like 2017 and 2018, the championship pendulum will swing in different directions for various spells of the year.
The second half of the season tends to suit Hamilton better, so Vettel needs to build up a commanding lead early on or try match him in races where he has previously been unsuccessful. On tracks like Russia, Austria and France, the German is yet to win.
It will be a season that captures our attention and imagination for many months ahead, but Hamilton is that once in a generation driver, and should have enough brilliance to scoop a coveted sixth crown that will see him move within one of the legendary Michael Schumacher’s record.
It all starts in Melbourne this weekend.