Lewis Hamilton hopes to come up against strong challenge in 2019 F1 battle

Lewis Hamilton wants the pretenders to his Formula One crown to be at their best in 2019 – so he can inflict even more pain if he wins a sixth championship.

The Briton boasts five world drivers’ titles having been the cream of the crop for three of the last four seasons at Mercedes.

Hamilton, 34, needs one more title to move clear in second place on the all-time list, just one behind Michael Schumacher.

In the first pre-season test in Barcelona earlier this week, it was Ferrari who appeared to have the stronger car for the forthcoming season.

Sebastian Vettel was the man to run Hamilton closest and will be there or thereabouts again this year alongside his new team-mate Charles Leclerc.

Red Bull will also be hopeful of sustaining a challenge, while across the garage, Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas will be looking to improve on a poor 2018.

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“Each year the goal is to get better and – looking at our competitors out there – the more competition, the better,” Hamilton replied when asked who his biggest rival will be this year.

“You always want to be against the best while at your best because then when you beat them it is more painful for them and more enjoyable for me.”

The season gets under way with the traditional Australian curtain-raiser in Melbourne on March 17.

All eyes will be on Hamilton as he sets out after a sixth title – but he insists there is no extra weight on his shoulders.

“I don’t think it adds pressure, it doesn’t really change anything to be honest,” he added.

“Every year you reset, you re-evaluate and you set new goals. That is the same for all of us when you come to a new year, you set new heights and new targets.

“So it is pretty much the same as in recent years where we are out there to work cohesively and extract absolutely everything from ourselves as team and the car.

“When I first started we were racing against Ferrari and I was just a kid, I was 22-years-old. I had all the talent that I needed, had a bit of practice and preparation getting to Formula One but I didn’t have the experience.

“It was just all raw and wild adrenaline and ambition, without really a particular strategy and an experience to balance yourself.

“The ability has not changed, but over the years you can continue to pile up and build on that foundation to give you stability and allows you to execute it better.”

- Press Association

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