Setting the fastest time of the first pre-season test would usually be a cause for celebration - but for Lewis Hamilton it was tempered by the fact that he wants a close battle at the front of the field this season.
Two of Hamilton’s last three world championships were internal battles fought against team-mate Nico Rosberg, before last season saw Ferrari offer an increased threat. Fresh from setting a lap time more than half a second quicker than the rest of the field on the final day in Barcelona, when asked if he wants to see close competition this season, Hamilton replied: “Definitely.
“The closer it is, the better it is when you win. You want the guys you are racing to have a level playing field that you can really show that there are only small differences between us as drivers, and you want to be able to show that. It’s magnified if the cars are all the same.”
I don’t prepare myself and then hope that the next guy has issues so I can capitalise on them. I want him to be at his best because then it’s more painful for them when you do out-perform them
The rivalry with Sebastian Vettel was one of the defining features of Hamilton’s 2017 season, and the pair will both go for their fifth drivers’ championship this year. As well as closely-matched machinery, Hamilton also wants the German to be performing at his peak when racing resumes in Melbourne.
“Honestly I just don’t focus too much on anyone else. I think ultimately for me and my mindset, if I am at my best then I should have no problems. That’s how I approach it. If I prepare myself in the best way and am as fit as I can be and I have the most energy and I’m feeling healthy, I’ve come with the right approach, I’m working hard, then I truly believe I won’t have any problems.
“That’s generally what all the drivers will think. That’s what you have to think. It’s the same for a tennis player at their best. I’m sure if you asked [Roger] Federer, he will truly believe that if he’s trained hard and arrived feeling great, there’s no-one that can touch him. You have to be convinced that will be the case. That’s what you work towards.
“So I don’t prepare myself and then hope that the next guy has issues so I can capitalise on them, I want him to be at his best because then it’s more painful for them when you do out-perform them.”
While he faced a number of questions about the coming season, Hamilton says his mind is not yet on his title defence even though he acknowledges the importance of the work done during testing.
“Collectively I’ve done less than a day in the car. My mindset is not really like ‘this is the start to getting the next championship’ - although it is - it’s really just about learning as much as we can and being as consistent and as diligent as you can through these days in the driving laps you do get.
“Of course this is all building blocks for a title fight, but we have no idea where people are. It looks like the Red Bull is quite quick, looks like the Ferrari is quite quick but no-one really knows.”