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Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010

Lewis Hamilton tips Ferrari as his fastest rival

By Andrew Benson

Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton expects up to six teams to be be battling at the front

Lewis Hamilton has tipped Ferrari as his McLaren team's biggest rival on the eve of the new Formula 1 season.

The 2008 champion, who set the fastest time as pre-season testing ended on Sunday, is expecting a close battle.

"McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, Sauber and Force India are the most competitive teams," Hamilton said.

"It is really difficult to say who is the most competitive out of all of them, but at the moment Ferrari look the fastest, I think."

Hamilton's McLaren has set impressive times in qualifying trim and during a race-distance simulation, and he said he was confident the team would be in good shape for the first race of the season in Bahrain on 14 March.

"On the first day of the test, it wasn't particularly impressive - we were not fast enough compared to the Ferraris," said Hamilton during a media phone-in.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa

Ferrari can compete with the best - Massa

"But on the last day we improved the car. I did a race distance and the balance of the car and the times I did were very, very competitive. So that was a big boost to the confidence.

"But the Mercedes was very competitive over its long runs and so was the Ferrari. You go to another circuit and it's how we manage the tyres."

Hamilton's view was echoed by team-mate Jenson Button, who won the world title last year with Brawn, who have now been bought by and renamed Mercedes.

"We go to Bahrain with a package we feel will be competitive," Button said. "But we don't know how quick we'll be compared to Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes."

Button added Williams to the list of teams with competitive cars, but said he felt that the big four - McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes - would stretch away over the season as the smaller teams would not be able to keep pace with development.

Button said he shared the widespread belief that with four world champions in competitive cars, this could be one of the best seasons for years.

606: DEBATE
GPWIZARD

Joining Button and Hamilton, Michael Schumacher is back on the grid with Mercedes after a three-year retirement and double world champion Fernando Alonso has moved to Ferrari.

"Last year I was very excited because we had a car that we knew could win the first race, especially after all we'd been through . This year, I am more excited because of the competitiveness of the top four teams and Sauber and Williams, and having Michael back," he said.

"I'm looking forward to going head-to-head with him. Having Lewis as a team-mate is a tough challenge, and I'm looking forward to it, and Fernando in a Ferrari.

"There's so much change. This is great for F1. I can't wait for the first race - I'm very, very excited and I think it's going to be a very special season."

Hamiton said: "Firstly, Michael - it's a real pleasure to have such a legend on the track. I'm very excited to be on the same track as him and I'm sure we'll have some good battles and I'm looking forward to that.

"To have Fernando at Ferrari, it's another incredible driver - it will make a serious battle, a really fun battle."

Both men said they thought the banning on in-race refuelling would make the races more unpredictable, changing strategy and increasing the drivers' need to manage their tyres.

"We'll get lots of unusual strategies in races," Button said. "You will have some teams doing tyre stops two to three laps before their rivals and trying to jump them.

"Some of the smaller teams will do crazy things - stop after two laps and try to go the distance on one set of tyres. It'll be interesting."



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see also
Where the F1 teams stand
01 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Top teams closely matched - Brawn
28 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Ferrari team to beat - Schumacher
27 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Schumacher rules out early wins
26 Feb 10 |  Formula 1


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