Victory is the aim, says Hamilton, but a hard-fought win makes triumph sweeter

Triple world Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton is a red-hot favourite to notch his fourth title when the new season kicks off in Melbourne this weekend.

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But ask the Englishman if he would like his upcoming campaign to be a walk in the park or a fierce battle to the wire, and the answer might be a surprise.

The 32-year-old shared a media platform with two former world champions – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso – and Australian star Daniel Ricciardo at Albert Park on Thursday afternoon.

Ricciardo is one of the men expected to challenge for the title sooner rather than later and Hamilton admitted that he would like nothing better than a full on scrap with the top drivers and the top teams before he won his next title.

Such a challenge, he said, would make the victory even sweeter and the achievement more rewarding.

“Every year your goal is to beat everyone … the more fighting [for position and results], the more satisfying it is when you are victorious,” Hamilton said.

“I am fully up for the challenge and the fight … I have not had a lot of battles with Sebastian on track. I would love to have that, the fans would love to see that.”

The raft of new technical regulations and rule changes in place this season have levelled the playing field somewhat after several seasons in which Hamilton and his former teammate and the reigning world champion, Nico Rosberg, have dominated in their Mercedes.

Rosberg quit shortly after winning the title last year with Hamilton second, but off-season testing has seen Ferrari posting strong times – quicker than Mercedes – with the margins at the front of the field narrowing.

Hamilton quipped that if F1’s new owners, Liberty Media, wanted to ensure close fields and ever more competitive racing they might want to change the rules more often.

“Doing drastic changes shakes things up,” he said. “I have never seen the fans more excited for the season. We don’t know where the cars and the teams are.”

Hamilton said the absence of his former teammate and champion Rosberg did not concern him as every driver was a rival.

“It does not make any difference … every year is a brand new start and a brand new championship to win. You just want to beat the others.”

Despite the better testing performances of Ferrari, Hamilton looked in confident mood as he embarks on his 11th season in F1. Aside from his three titles he has finished second twice in the drivers’ standings and never been further back than fifth position, a formidable record.

He has stood on the top of the podium twice at Albert Park after finishing third there in a McLaren in his first appearance in a grand prix, and he has been on pole at the parklands circuit five times in his 10 appearances there, a phenomenal strike-rate at this particular track.

The Englishman said that the new cars have put a smile on his face as they are faster, corner quicker and generally ask more questions of drivers than the previous generation of cars did.

“As racing drivers you want to drive the quickest cars in the world, you always want to go faster,” he said, explaining that the most interesting challenge was on how to exploit that speed.

The quicker cars are also more physically demanding on the drivers, but that is something the Mercedes star welcomes.

“We are athletes and F1 should be the most physically demanding [of all the motorsport series as it is the pinnacle].”

Hamilton tried to suggest that Vettel and the Ferrari squad should be the favourites, but the German, a four-time world champion with Red Bull Racing earlier in his career, would have none of it.

Testing results were just that – practice and refinement – he suggested, and the only laboratory that counted was the track on raceday.

“So far we don’t know anything. We will get the first impression on Sunday,” Vettel said. “I don’t think testing times are that crucial … we are in the dark like everyone else.

“There are a lot of new things [with the Ferrari] … last year didn’t go as well as expected. We did decent mileage [in testing] and we don’t have any major issues with the car.”