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High five for Lewis Hamilton?

CHAMPION BUBBLER: Hamilton celebrates

WHEN IT’S all said and done the winner of this years’ Formula One championship will likely emanate from Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari.

The drivers that are in contention are just as familiar as the teams they drive for but it’s the youngest protagonist that has this journalist excited to see how the year long race unfolds.

Dutchman Max Verstappen finished sixth last season with 168 points. His raw and at times uncompromising driving style has won him plaudits and criticism in equal measure.

The question will be: has he matured enough to see him split the duopoly that is 2017 champion and four time winner Lewis Hamilton verses German Sebastian Vettel?

COMPETITIVE

Stevenage-born Hamilton will be chomping at the bit to secure yet another title having demonstrated that even after a decade at the sharp end, the hunger to demonstrate he is still the best runs deep.
Vettel, 30, will not be best pleased that his four years of dominance as a Red Bull driver seems to pale in significance as the years roll by.

Put simply, people are not as convinced that he is still the same force he once was, especially when Hamilton is around in a competitive car.

If your Verstappen however, none of those guys should bother you as their careers will be over soon and while no one really expects him to make significant inroads on the aforementioned, it’s a great target to have and also the type of competition that will ensure that he is the man in the future.

Looking forward to the season opener Verstappen said: “I always enjoy going to Melbourne, I like the country and the temperature which is always a welcome change compared to Europe at this time of year. The fans are very passionate about racing and especially Formula 1 as it has a great history in Australia.

“Albert Park is not the easiest track to overtake on, we will try our best but the straights are not quite long enough and a lot of the corners leading to the straights are 90 degrees, this makes it hard to set-up a pass. Turns 11 and 12 are the fastest corners and really cool to drive, especially in qualifying with low fuel in sixth or seventh gear.

CLOSE

“The trees around the circuit sometimes make your braking markers hard to spot with shadows, it’s quite normal on a street circuit but makes it more challenging for us to get it right.

"We are hoping to have made a large step forward this year and be competitive from the start, to have a fast car from race one and continue for the rest of the season would be great.”

Behind the scenes you can always rely on Toto Wolff, Mercedes team principal, to put the competitive cat amongst the pigeons. This year is no different. “We’re excited to go racing again,” the German enthused.

“Everything we’ve done over the past months were just the first steps on the road to start our 2018 campaign – from the first build of the car to the first fire-up, from the launch in Silverstone to testing in Barcelona. Now, it’s time to find out what we’ve got: like the old saying goes, when the flag drops, the bulls**t stops.

“Last year, the competition was very close and there was no moment where we could afford to relax. Ferrari put up a very tough fight and we had a proper battle between silver and red. This year promises to bring an exciting three-way fight between us, Ferrari and Red Bull.

"Everyone in Brackley and Brixworth has worked extremely hard over the past months to make sure we enter that fight with the best machine possible.

“Both our drivers seem reasonably happy with our new car, but it remains yet to be seen how well it performs when driven in anger.”

He added: “We will tackle this new season with the same dedication, team spirit and energy that has made us strong in the past. We start this long season on zero points like every one of our rivals. And we have to give it everything to be successful again this year.”

The 2018 season marks Hamilton’s twelfth in F1 and sixth at Brackley - but he reckons he’s never seen a team so driven and determined.

“Everyone’s done an incredible job and I want them to know we’ll be giving it everything going into the first race and hopefully get the best of the Bulls and Ferraris,” he added.

LEVEL

“It’s really encouraging, being my sixth year with the team, to see how motivated everyone is. I think that’s something we all have in common. Everyone’s continuously pushing to better themselves, their work and take it to the next level.

“The unity I have seen develop at this team over the years, there is nothing like it. It is hands down the best team because we all work together, and that’s really inspiring for me.

“I will give it everything this season, title number five is the ultimate goal. Let’s go for it!”

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