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Formula One (F1)

Lewis Hamilton ‘grateful’ for chance to battle Sebastian Vettel with Chinese Grand Prix next

Mercedes driver looking forward to prospect of title fight with Ferrari rival as Formula One gets ready for next stop in Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 6:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 6:56pm

Lewis Hamilton says he is relishing the prospect of battling it out with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for the 2017 Formula One world championship.

Ferrari won its first grand prix since 2015 at the weekend’s season-opening race in Australia, with Vettel finishing ahead of Hamilton, and they will likely be going head to head again in Shanghai two weekends from now.

“This year you are seeing the best drivers at the top,” Hamilton said. “It would be great if we had Fernando [Alonso] up there but that doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon. At least we have a great driver in Sebastian [Vettel].

“Four titles and an incredible surge into Formula One and he continues to be a force and will continue to be for many years to come. I am very grateful that I am able to have that fight with him. He grew up with Ferrari which is the next best team. I think it is great.”

Hamilton and Vettel have won seven of the last nine drivers’ titles between them, though have yet to go head-to-head for the world championship.

From 2014 to 2016, the Briton battled Nico Rosberg, his former Mercedes teammate with whom at times he had a tense relationship, winning two titles before Rosberg got the better of him last season and subsequently retired.

Asked about his relationship with Vettel compared to Rosberg, Hamilton said: “I mean I would not compare it. I have not really had many races up against Sebastian but I have always had great respect for him. There is a great amount of respect there between us and I am sure it will continue to grow.

“It’s much more fun fighting another team. Much more fun.”

Rosberg’s departure from the sport made room for Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes – and the Finn had to settle for third place on the podium in Melbourne.

But Hamilton is now expecting his main challenge to come from a rival garage.

“Incredible amount of respect for Sebastian and what he’s achieved in his career,” Hamilton said. “It’s been a privilege to be racing in an era with him and now finally at a period of time when we can actually have a real race.

“I wish we could race a lot closer in the cars that we have today but still I think the fact that we are similar pace-wise, it’s going to be a very, very hard slog this season.”

With Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who won the title for them 10 years ago, finishing fourth in Melbourne, the Scuderia lead Mercedes by four points in the constructors’ standings.

Vettel is equally as keen to slug it out with Hamilton. “He’s proven to be one of the quickest drivers on the grid and for sure I would love to have a close battle,” he said. “Obviously right now it looks like we have equal machinery.

“I hope it stays that way and then we will see how it turns out – but it’s obviously a lot of fun to race for victories.”