Confident Hamilton Predicts 'toughest Battle Yet' with Ferrari

Lewis Hamilton records the fastest lap time in the practice session of the Melbourne Grand Prix on Friday

Lewis Hamilton records the fastest lap time in the practice session of the Melbourne Grand Prix on Friday

"I'm confident the auto will be better here [than in testing], but if it's enough, we'll find out".

Mercedes struggled to keep pace with Ferrari in winter testing, and although the pre-season action has a reputation for delivering misleading clues as to the real pecking order, Hamilton added: "It wasn't hard to read, it was clear".

Having won 11 of 21 races last season, another F1 title would put Hamilton one shy of Michael Schumacher's record of seven and stir the debate about the greatest racer of all time. The British driver is once again the man to beat after he picked up an incredible fifth world championship last season.

"We've got the best team around us. We have experience, it's no coincidence that we are world champions so we have to be diligent and stay balanced", said Hamilton, who has won twice in Melbourne.

Mercedes will go in with Hamilton and the regular Valtteri Bottas. The driver, whose team will also score an extra point for the constructors' championship, must finish in the top 10.

"We had our weaknesses last year here and there and we obviously try to fix those and do much better this year".

"They have a very stable platform, and we definitely have work to do on that". "I wasn't expecting to see so many people here, ' said a shocked Hamilton".

Meanwhile Red Bull, powered by new Honda engines, have high hopes that Max Verstappen, who finished fourth in the drivers' standings past year, can crash the Hamilton-Vettel party.

Three drivers make their race debuts in Australia - Lando Norris (McLaren), Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso) and George Russell (Williams).

The race also marks the wonderful comeback of Poland's Robert Kubica, who eight years ago partially severed his right arm in an accident that many believed would never see him driving a auto again, let alone a Formula One machine.

Alfa Romeo, formerly Sauber, named Kimi Raikkonen to partner Antonio Giovinazzi in 2019 and the Swiss team are hopeful of being prominent in what will be an enthralling midfield battle. A victor now gets 25 points with 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and one for the subsequent places.

The new regulations have changed the front and rear wings, aimed at making it easier for cars to get closer and overtake.