Too early to dismiss Ferrari as title rival - Lewis Hamilton

Reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton has stressed that it would be premature to rule Ferrari out of this year’s Formula 1 title battle, in spite of Mercedes’ imperious start.

Mercedes has enjoyed one of the strongest starts to any Formula 1 campaign, with four successive 1-2 finishes, fronted twice each by Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Bottas leads Hamilton in the standings by a single point owing to setting the fastest lap in Australia, with the closest non-Mercedes driver – Sebastian Vettel – already 35 points adrift.

In the Constructors’ Championship Mercedes has amassed 173 out of a possible 176 points to hold a 74-point advantage over Ferrari.

When asked whether he regarded Bottas as his main title rival for 2019, Hamilton replied: “No. It’s far too early to say that one person is the title rival.

“Ferrari had good pace in practice and in qualifying. I think if both cars delivered as we delivered, and their drivers delivered as we delivered, I think it would have been a lot closer.

“But we still have to stay on our toes.

“We didn’t bring an upgrade [in Azerbaijan] and Ferrari did, so it’s a little bit of a surprise performance-wise, because at some stage we will bring an upgrade.”

When it was put to Hamilton that the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix will be a definitive indication of the respective cars’ pace, he replied: “Certainly we’ll go there and Ferrari were quick there in testing.

“I’m sure they’ll bring some extra upgrades and yeah, I don’t really know.

“It’ll take some races, but of course these first four have been stellar for us, and we just have to stay on our toes because you just never know when another team is going to take a step forward.

“I think Barcelona is usually an area where you do bring upgrades. Ferrari brought it forward maybe.

“But I think we still have to keep a close eye on them and continue to perform as we have, and not let that waver.”