2014 favourite Lewis Hamilton bidding to end 'lifetime' wait for second world title
But Mercedes man plays down 'favourite' tag ahead of first race
By Mike Wise in Melbourne and James Galloway
Last Updated: 13/03/14 9:35am
The strong form of Mercedes and their new V6 turbo engine throughout winter testing has seen Hamilton usurp four-times champion Sebastian Vettel as the bookmakers' favourite for this season's Drivers' Championship.
Since becoming the then youngest F1 World Champion in history six years ago, Hamilton has won 13 more races but not finished higher than fourth in the standings with all but one of the titles since his 2008 success being claimed by Vettel.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the season-opening Australian GP, which he is also favourite to win for the second time in his career, Hamilton acknowledged Mercedes were poised for a competitive start to the year - but attempted to play down both his and their title favourites status.
"Everyone's talking us up and predicting the future but we really can't say what's going to happen this weekend," the Mercedes driver said.
"We know we'll be strong, we've not left any stone unturned, we've done absolutely everything we can possibly do, so we're hoping we'll be at the front, that's our goal. But we can't say that's going to be the case.
"Coming here, knowing that this is the best chance out of all the years, I don't know; I haven't even got in the car and gone on the track yet. I had a great year in 2012, which was another good, strong year; I had a great opportunity in 2010, probably 2011 when Jenson [Button] got second, which I didn't optimise on, so I've had some chances in the past."
Nonetheless, Hamilton, who turned 29 in January and has faced accusations in the past that he has been distracted by his life away from the track, admitted he was feeling in strong shape personally.
"It is a long, long time since I won the World Championship - it feels like a lifetime ago - but I'm still here, still motivated and actually a lot more than I ever was before and more focused than I ever was before," the Briton added.
"If the package is there then we will do the job and there's no reason why we can't be at the front again."
He added: "I'm 29 now. It's been a long old time since I started, I'm starting to be one of the older guys and I feel like I'm maturing. So fingers crossed that will show in my results, in my performances and hopefully in the things that I say and do. I'm still young at heart and will make mistakes along the way, but that's part of life."
With Mercedes proving the form horse of the winter, there have been suggestions that the Brackley team's hitherto harmonious intra-team relationship between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg could be shaken should the pair be pitched into direct combat for the drivers' crown.
But having first been team-mates when they were teenage karters, Hamilton doesn't foresee any major ructions even if the championship pressure does ratchet up.
"Me and Nico have been racing together since we were 13 and since the first race we did together we were racing. Our first race together was in Italy and we ran one-two throughout the race and remained good friends after that," he explained.
"We were team-mates in 2000 and 2001 and finished first and second in the World Championship and the European Championship and remained friends after that. We've raced each other in F3 and F1; F1 is a lot more intense, the competition is a lot more fierce and it's a serious business. But actually I think we'll always maintain that respect and friendship."
And asked during his appearance in the Drivers' Press Conference in Melbourne if their duel could be decided by who 'wants it' more, Hamilton replied: "Possibly. It's very technical this year, everyone's in the same boat. We're always trying to find where the advantages can be between two drivers.
"From race to race I think you'll see one time he's ahead, one time I'm ahead, the same as you saw last year. Obviously the goal is to be ahead all the time."