Mercedes have plenty of work ahead to challenge Ferrari, world champion Lewis Hamilton said on Thursday, but voiced confidence his team was making good progress.
The 34-year-old, who was dominant in 2018, said after pre-season testing in Barcelona the Italian team could be up to half a second quicker at the opening race of the year in Melbourne on Sunday.
While cars have different engine settings and fuel loads in testing, the Briton insisted he wasn’t joking despite winning five drivers’ and constructors’ titles in a row.
“Usually the first few races is when you really start to get an idea of where everyone stands. We certainly have work to do. We weren’t talking BS you know (in Barcelona). We have work to do,” the five-time champion said in his pre-race press conference.
Hamilton won 11 of the 21 races in 2018 to beat Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and secure his fifth championship with two rounds to spare.
Now fully refreshed after an off-season break spent skydiving and surfing, among other things, he is partnered for a third successive season by Valtteri Bottas.
Mercedes is one of only two teams to stick with the same driver line-up and Hamilton said, for him, it was important to have continuity.
“On the driving front, continuity is what works. We have a great pairing and the contribution from Valtteri and I have worked well for years. We have so many incredible people in the team and the energy is really, really inspiring to see. The communication is better than ever. It’s so impressive to see so many people passionate about their jobs and about racing and wanting to do a better job and wanting to improve,” says Hamilton.
“It’s really cool to see and really encouraging. This is a team that will give absolutely everything to make sure we continue to progress,” says Hamilton.
Hamilton is entering the 13th season of his remarkable career, and will move to within just one title of Michael Schumacher’s record haul of seven should he triumph again this term.
Despite being Mercedes’ number one, he insisted there would be no team orders and Bottas was free to race hard against him.
“We are free to race like every single year. That’s how I like it, it means we both have a fair shot. It has been the same every single year. It is only when you get to a point where a driver doesn’t have the chance to win the championships anymore… that things shift. But generally we are always free to race,” says
He added: “It’s a long, long season and the most important thing is really about finishing races, and analysing, and making sure you can get as many points as you can.”