Lewis Hamilton hopes to have several challengers, rather than just his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, when he defends his Formula One title this season.
Last year’s fight was intense, with Hamilton and Rosberg feuding as their title scrap went down to the final race in Abu Dhabi. But everyone else lagged way behind and Mercedes were mostly unchallenged, winning 16 out of 19 races and finishing nearly 300 points clear in the constructors’ championship.
Matching that, let alone surpassing it, is a very tall order and Hamilton expects the competition to be sterner when the new season starts on 15 March in Melbourne.
“I always want to make sure there’s a fight. The battle we had last year was really good fun. That’s what I live for,” Hamilton said. “The more people I get to race [against] the merrier. Bring it on.”
He certainly got a fight last year, when his tussle with Rosberg was hardly fun. It grew so bitter at times that it tested a friendship dating back to their teenage years racing karts against each other.
“I’m ready. That’s all I need to be,” Hamilton replied curtly when asked if he would relish a repeat of his contest with Rosberg.
Hamilton beat Rosberg by 67 points last year, but the margin was made bigger by the fact double points were on offer in Abu Dhabi. The German held the edge on Hamilton in qualifying, taking 11 pole positions to Hamilton’s seven.
Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who will drive for McLaren this year after leaving Ferrari, have two titles each. Sebastian Vettel, who quit Red Bull to take Alonso’s seat, won four in a row before Hamilton upstaged him.
Hamilton gives himself “five or six” more years at the top, but is evasive as to what he hopes to achieve in that time.
“I don’t set myself a goal of world titles. I’m not sitting here saying I want seven World Championships,” he said. “I’m grateful for the two I have. Coming from where I grew up, I never thought I’d have two world titles, have as many wins as Nigel Mansell, have the most wins from any British driver.”
Hamilton is in his final year with Mercedes and talks are ongoing about a new contract.
“It would be good if we get the sticky parts out of the way early on,” he said. “I’m sure it will be sorted.”
Vettel posted the fastest lap for Ferrari on the first day of pre-season Formula One testing yesterday, while Rosberg clocked a massive 157 laps.
Vettel’s best lap of 1 minute, 22.62 seconds was 0.157 quicker than Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson and 0.486 better than Rosberg.
There are four days of testing. Hamilton is due to drive today and on Wednesday.
Daniel Ricciardo was fourth fastest – 0.716 behind – and completed 35 laps in his Red Bull. “The first impressions are good. We’ll get a few more laps over the next few days, but so far everything seems pretty encouraging,” the Australian driver said. “I can feel a step forward. I won’t go into too much detail but it is there.”