Former F1 title winner Jackie Stewart says he feels Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes could challenge for the championship crown this season.

Hamilton made the switch to Mercedes over the winter following a long career associated with McLaren, with many expecting it to take time for the Briton to get up to speed with his new outfit.

Hamilton has already secured a brace of top five finishes this season and took his maiden podium last time out in Malaysia, leading Stewart to suggest that he could not only win races this season, but could also launch a title bid.

"Yes, they can win races," he told the BBC. "Lewis will drive the living daylights out of whatever car he's got.

"They can challenge for the title, but they will need to keep up with Red Bull and Ferrari in terms of development.

"If the Red Bull is as good as it can be, that's your main opposition, while Ferrari are already more competitive at the start of the season than they were last year. The Lotus is very competitive, too, and McLaren will fight back, but [Mercedes team principal] Ross Brawn is an extraordinarily talented man. Mercedes exist to win and they have the resources to do so."

While Hamilton's team-mate Nico Rosberg had the quicker car at Sepang - and arguably would have taken Hamilton's third spot had team orders not been employed - Stewart insisted it was the 2008 title winner who held the upper hand within the team, given the resources that had gone into bringing him onboard and the success he had enjoyed in the past.

"There's no question that Lewis holds the upper hand because he's had more success - he's had more race wins and a championship," he said. "He's also started the season well. Nico has won a race, but he has yet to follow that up. Mercedes have got themselves a very expensive driver and they'll want him to do well.

"They've got the people who Lewis feels will be good for the team. Paddy Lowe is coming from McLaren and I'm sure part of the reason is because Lewis is there.

"Nico is a skilled and talented driver and he may well be better on his tyres but he would have learned his lesson in Malaysia that you can't leave it until the last minute to try and take the initiative. It'll be interesting to see how he responds."


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