Lewis Hamilton believes Ferrari have the edge going into the opening Grand Prix of the season in Melbourne, but the Mercedes ace remains quietly confident in his bid for a sixth world title.
The 34-year-old, who was dominant in 2018, is gunning to go one better than legendary five-time champion Juan Manuel Fangio and close in on Michael Schumacher’s all-time record seven Formula One crowns.
But it was Ferrari who sizzled in pre-season testing to emerge as the early favourites in Australia, with Hamilton claiming the Italian team could be up to half a second quicker around Albert Park on Sunday.
“This is going to be the toughest battle yet,” said the Briton, although Mercedes, who have won five drivers’ and constructors’ titles in a row, may not have shown their full hand yet.
“We’ve got the best team around us. We have experience, it’s no coincidence that we are world champions so we have to be diligent and stay balanced,” added Hamilton, who has won twice in Melbourne, in 2008 and 2015.
“But as a driver for sure I have to figure out how can I pull more out, which I don’t have the current answer for.”
His Ferrari arch-rival Sebastian Vettel swept home in an Australian thriller last year, getting a jump on Hamilton after Mercedes miscalculated a pit stop under virtual safety car conditions.
It was the four-time world champion’s second straight win in Melbourne and he followed it up with victory at Bahrain before a resurgent and doggedly consistent Hamilton won 11 of the final 19 races to leave the frustrated German in his wake.
While Mercedes have retained Valtteri Bottas as Hamilton’s partner this year, one of only two unchanged driver line-ups, Vettel has a new teammate in Charles Leclerc who shifted from Sauber — now branded Alfa Romeo — in a swap for Kimi Raikkonen.