Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel ready for F1 2018 title battle
"To be the best you've got to go up against the best," - the two four-time world champions are ready for the "ultimate" F1 showdown
By Matt Morlidge and Pete Gill
Last Updated: 26/03/18 8:49am
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are set for a 'best of the best' championship fight in 2018, with Vettel targeting the "ultimate satisfaction" of a title win for Ferrari.
The much-anticipated season kicks off this weekend at the Australian GP with both Vettel and Hamilton - who endured an intense and often heated title battle last year - seeking a fifth world championship crown.
Were either Vettel or Hamilton to prevail, they would become just the third driver in the sport's history to claim a fifth title.
"The ultimate goal is to be the best and to be the best you've got to go up against the best," Hamilton said.
"He's got the four world titles, which was the most of any other driver at the time, and I think this is an exciting year for Formula 1 fans, being that we have two four-time world champions battling it out."
All of Vettel's four titles were clinched with Red Bull and the German described winning a world championship with Ferrari as the "ultimate satisfaction".
Sitting alongside Hamilton, Vettel said: "If I look at the people I raced throughout my career then it's always been the same people, and then you care more about who you race against - it gives you more satisfaction.
"Now I'm searching for the ultimate satisfaction, to win with Ferrari, the greatest team in history and the greatest team in the paddock. That's my ultimate target now, to win with Ferrari and to win against the best - and arguably Lewis is one of them."
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Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari ahead?
While Mercedes enter the new season as favourites after four successive championship doubles, few in the paddock are prepared to offer any definitive predictions about the likely 2018 pecking order following a disrupted pre-season testing in which Ferrari topped the timesheets but Mercedes opted against completing any low-fuel runs.
The picture has been further clouded by gossip in the Melbourne paddock that Red Bull are poised to introduce a vast upgrade package, Ferrari have eked out more horsepower from their engine and Mercedes have a 'happy hour' qualifying mode.
"Mercedes and Lewis are right to be the favourites," said Vettel. "But we have reasons to be confident, the car is great and we have more to come.
"Based on testing, we are in good shape but could be in better shape."
Mercedes completed more laps than any other team in testing but the Silver Arrows are wary of the threat from Red Bull with Hamilton predicting a "surprise" from the former world champions.
Red Bull's level of competitiveness may ultimately be determined by the relative power of their Renault engine compared to those of Mercedes and Ferrari. Each team will be restricted to just three engines this season to be used with penalty and it's thought that the Renault-powered runners may opt to take a tactical 'hit' during the campaign to bring a fourth unit into their pool.
"Hopefully we are deep in that front group," said Ricciardo. "I really hope Lewis is right and we have the chance to fight for the title."
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So who is Hamilton following on social media?
Hamilton and Vettel's relationship crumbled spectacularly last year following their clash in Baku when the Ferrari driver rammed the car of his Mercedes rival.
But the respect for each other's abilities runs deep and there was a moment of good humour between the drivers during Thursday's press conference when Vettel ruled out following Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen onto social media.
"Aren't you on social media?" Hamilton suddenly interjected. "I think I am following someone…"
"Whoever it is, congratulations," joked Vettel in response. "It is not me."
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