I face real fight for sixth world crown: Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton believes rivals Ferrari hold all the aces as Britain's five-time Formula One world champion gears up for the biggest battle of his career.
The 34-year-old Mercedes star will head to Melbourne a week on Sunday to begin his quest for a remarkable sixth world title, and move to within just one triumph of Michael Schumacher's record haul.
Hamilton, who is now earning a staggering £40m-a-season, delivered a superb campaign in 2018 to close out his fourth Championship in five years and see off Sebastian Vettel's error-prone challenge with two rounds to spare.
Yet Vettel's Ferrari have emerged from F1's winter hibernation boasting the fastest car.
Indeed, Hamilton fears the Prancing Horse could gallop out of the starting gates at Albert Park on March 17 with an advantage of up to half-a-second a lap.
The Stevenage-born driver knows all too well that he will have to dip into the top drawer if he is to write another chapter of grand prix history in 2019.
"Last season, there were many occasions where we were behind on performance, so we had to overachieve with our delivery," said Hamilton. "Now we have to reach even further than before.
"You have to be careful in that scenario because it could push you over the edge and you can make faults, but we don't mind a challenge. We love a fight and it means we have to work harder.
"When you start two or three steps ahead it is easier to keep at least one step in front.
"But I am not worried or disappointed. We have a hill to climb. We know how to do it, so it is just about being diligent, taking no shortcuts and bringing even more performance. There is no reward for going quick in testing. What matters is that we are fast in Melbourne."
Will the Scuderia finally end their silverware drought in 2019?
Vettel, the four-time world champion, said: "We have all the ingredients. In previous years, maybe we didn't put everything 100 per cent together.
"We know what it needs to succeed, but it only matters when we find ourselves in that position, and that's the aim."