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Hamilton taking patient approach to title defence

 

Out in front: Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton set the pace in practice
Out in front: Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton set the pace in practice

By Alexander Britton

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel feel no need to stamp their authority on the new F1 season ahead of the curtain raiser in Australia.

The reigning champion starts the defence of his fifth title at Albert Park this weekend with Vettel, who himself has won the crown four times, eager to stop the Briton's reign.

Meanwhile, the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers have said they will be able to race with, and against, their team-mates - despite the new team principal of the Italian outfit suggesting they would favour Vettel over Charles Leclerc in certain situations.

Hamilton will go into today's qualifying session the happier of the two drivers, having completed a practice double yesterday and blown away questions about a disparity in pace between his Mercedes and the Ferrari in winter testing.

Hamilton, whose first win of last season came in Azerbaijan in round four, said he did not feel as if he needed to grab the new campaign by the scruff of the neck.

He said: "It's a long season, so I don't particularly feel it's the most important thing.

"I think it's really about finishing races and analysing and making sure you are getting as many points as you can, of course, but I'm not really one for needing to stamp authority."

Vettel, seeking to make it three consecutive Australian Grand Prix wins in a row, said: "I don't think we will win it here, I don't think we will lose it here.

"It's a long way. Hopefully we have a strong package, a strong team that carries us into a position at the end of the year to fight for it."

The reigning world champion had said his team had "work to do" after the pre-season testing sessions but no-one could match the Silver Arrows under blue skies at Melbourne's Albert Park in second practice on Friday afternoon.

First Valtteri Bottas lead the pack halfway through the 90-minute session with his first lap on soft tyres.

Then Hamilton went purple in his first sector and laid down a marker ahead of today's qualifying session.

The spectre of team orders loomed large for Mercedes at last year's Russian Grand Prix, where Bottas ceded his lead to Hamilton with less than half the race gone to help the Briton's title ambitions.

And for Ferrari new team principal Mattia Binotto said the priority would be Vettel in "particular situations".

But Hamilton said there would be no priority given to either himself or the Finn, adding: "We're free to race like every single year and that's how I like it."

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