Sitting alongside two multiple world champions and a local man tipped to take a title in the future, Lewis Hamilton says he does not miss, or need, the extra motivation of beating his former Mercedes team-mate and 2016 champion Nico Rosberg in Sunday’s Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix.
Facing the media at the first news conference of this weekend’s season-opening event, the 32-year-old Briton said he regarded Ferrari as his pre-season favourites and four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel as the man to beat on the track.
“Ferrari are the quickest,” said the three-time champion. “They are the team to beat going into this weekend…”
Flanked by Vettel and two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda, and with Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull alongside him, Hamilton was in his element as he joked and smiled.
When Vettel suggested that Hamilton and Mercedes were strong favourites, he laughed it aside. “Sebastian is not building up that much hype – he’s keeping a lid on it,” he said. “And we’ve not had that many fights on the track before…”
Asked about the absence of retired champion German Rosberg, he said it made it no difference to him as it was a new season and he had to beat the best.
“It makes no difference because every year is a new year and there are champions here around me – you just have to beat whoever you are up against. I don’t think ‘he is the defending champion so I’ve got to beat him’ or anything like that.”
A fit and confident-looking Hamilton, who has sharpened his strength and condition with a fitness routine including Thai boxing throughout the European winter, added that he hoped to see several drivers fighting for the title.
“It would be great to stir things up and have three guys in with a chance – and I would love to see this guy (Fernando Alonso) back… The sport needs him and it deserves him (in a competitive car),” said Hamilton.
“For sure the fans want it! And I would love it because you want to race against the best…”
In a serious moment, he told the assembled reporters that Mercedes’ team changes – with Finn Valtteri Bottas replacing Rosberg and British technical director James Allison succeeding compatriot Paddy Lowe – had been reinvigorating.
“James is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” he said. “And I am just working hard with him to make me the best I can be…”
Above all, he said, he shared the team’s ambition for the season in seeking to claim a back-to-back championship after a change of technical regulations.
“No team has won back-to-back titles after a set of regulation changes, I believe, so it is our goal to be the first team to try and do that.”
He added that he relished the prospect and challenge of racing this weekend in what may be the fastest F1 cars of all time.
“It’s a great challenge as we always want to go faster and this year it really is physically demanding, but that’s how it should be.
“Every year my goal is to be beat everyone out there and it is always a challenge and a fight – and I am up for that and I am prepared for it.”
He said that the regulation changes had spiced up the sport.
“The fans are so excited this year – I’ve never seen the fans so excited for the start of a season.”