'You have to believe that you're the best there is'

Lewis Hamilton tells David Tremayne he is confident of catching the flying Red Bulls
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The Independent Online

You always know where you are with Lewis Hamilton. After ending Thursday practice here in Monaco only 0.105sec adrift of Fernando Alonso's Ferrari – and crucially ahead of Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull – the 2008 world champion was bubbling with adrenalin.

"I just love driving the car here," he began. "It's the best thing I've ever done. It's so exciting. You can't afford to make mistakes, the car feels amazing when you're jumping from kerb to kerb, and there's no room for error. I want to win this grand prix."

Of course, Hamilton wants to win every race. He did it in China, and he finished only six-tenths behind Vettel in Spain last week after a sensational drive in a car that has less downforce than the reigning champion's. Now, in the demanding streets of Prince Albert's Principality, where he won in 2008, the Briton senses his best chance yet in a year in which McLaren have yet to match Red Bull's key aerodynamic advantage.

"They're not unbeatable, because I beat them in China, and unbeatable isn't the way I like to think," he says when asked to assess the level of threat Red Bull presents to his and McLaren's title aspirations. "But they've got a package that's working."

There's no hint of sour grapes as Hamilton says this, no sense that he feels disadvantaged or hard done to in another season of playing catch-up. "I have no idea why their package is so good," he continues. "It's just when you look at them they just look like they don't have the things we have. I asked Mark [Webber] just now, when was the last time you had oversteer?" He laughs ruefully. "He was, like, 'what's that?'"

You never talk to him long on the subject of drivers before Alonso's name crops up, as his main rival, the one he has to fight. Vettel sprang to true prominence last year, but it's clear that Alonso is Hamilton's real focus. "It's for many reasons, that I'm not going to express," he says quietly. "There are reasons for that, that I can't really say."

Hamilton won't be drawn on the background to this intense rivalry but laughs instead as he insists: "I can tell you that he's fast. And he's the highest-paid driver here, I'm sure. And he's probably the most fearsome driver on the track."

So, does he consider he operates at the same level as Alonso, the champion in 2005 and 2006 who lost out only narrowly last year? Hamilton's reply gives you a key insight into the way a champion's mind works. "I wouldn't say that I drive on the same level as anyone. If you ask Fernando, I'm sure he'd say that he drives on a higher standard than anyone.

"Every driver has to believe that. If I believe I just drive on a similar standard to him, I will never be the best."