Lewis Hamilton excited for 'hardest battle' in F1 2021 as he insists Red Bull 'are ahead' of Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton is aiming for historic eighth Formula 1 title this year but he says Red Bull are the favourites for this weekend's season-opening Bahrain GP; Hamilton braced for 'hardest challenge' and 'most exciting year' in 2021 and not thinking of retirement
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 26/03/21 11:02am
Lewis Hamilton says he's "never been so excited" for a new Formula 1 season as the world champion prepares for his "hardest battle" - insisting Red Bull go into the 2021's Bahrain GP opener ahead of Mercedes.
Three months after Mercedes and Hamilton wrapped up their historic seventh title-winning 2020 campaigns, there is plenty of intrigue and anticipation about the front of the grid for the first Grand Prix of 2021 with Red Bull - perennial slow-starters since their last championship - seen as genuine contenders after a very impressive pre-season testing,
With Mercedes uncharacteristically struggling in that same Sakhir test, Hamilton says Red Bull are the favourites heading into this weekend's season-opener - all live on Sky Sports F1.
- Lewis Hamilton explains why he will keep taking a knee
- When to watch the Bahrain GP on Sky F1 this weekend
Asked who had the faster car, Hamilton told Sky F1's Ted Kravitz in Bahrain: "That's a question that everyone's probably wondering... and I think at the moment it seems that Red Bull do."
Hamilton continued to F1: "I think it's definitely going to be the hardest battle we've had so far. At the moment they are ahead. But we're down for the fight."
But the seven-time champion is also adamant that starting on the back foot would only motivate Mercedes more.
"I think each year is a little bit of an unknown but of course more often we have a better feeling of what's happening with our car," he explained. "it's massively exciting for us as a team. We are currently not the fastest.
"And how we're going to work together, how we're going to unite in order to get where we want to be... that, for me, I'm so excited of that challenge. And seeing some of the other teams close. I think it's going to be great for fans."
Hamilton added to Ted: "Year after year we're faced with these challenges and what's always encouraging and impressive for me is seeing the guys pull together.
"The men and women in this team really make the team what it is and I love seeing them rally up and working on new calculations to get us where we need to be.
"Yes, we're not the quickest, but it doesn't mean we can't get there.
"I've never been so excited!"
Mercedes set for 'continued battle' with 2021 car
Red Bull have been keen to brush off a favourites tag for this weekend and their star driver Max Verstappen said: "I'm not downplaying anything I'm just realistic.
"We don't know what the others have done, we know what we have done but let's see if it's enough.
Get Sky Sports F1 for just £18 extra a month
Don't miss a second. Watch every race live, only on Sky Sports F1.
Hamilton, meanwhile, hinted Red Bull's advantage may be track-specific ("we know they're quick here") and it may take time for Mercedes - whose new W12 car Hamilton span twice at pre-season testing - to fix any problems.
"I think we are in the best shape that we can possibly be in considering that we only had three days of testing," he said.
"In terms of quantifying how big or small an issue we may or may not have, I think we're in the early phases.
"All engineers and particularly aerodynamicists have been working around the clock to rectify any normal things that happen with the new car, and I'm fully confident that in the short space of time have done the absolute best.
"But it's going to be a continued battle to get the car to be where we want it to be."
Hamilton on F1 future and why 2021 could be 'most exciting year'
It's clear Hamilton comes into the new season refreshed and with renewed energy about the challenge ahead.
He said excitement about this year - and next - means he does not yet feel like this will be his last year in F1.
"In the current position I'm in I don't feel like this is the end," Hamilton, who only has a one-year deal for 2021, stated.
"Of course we've got these changes that are happening next year which are exciting.
"And I think this looks like it might be the most exciting year yet. We've got new teams, new formats and it's closer.
"I don't feel like I'm at the end but in the next eight months I'll find out whether I'm ready to stop or not. I don't think I will personally, but you never know."