Lewis Hamilton has issued an early pre-season threat to his Formula One rivals, warning them that he plans to take charge of the 2008 campaign and not let anyone else have a look-in when it comes to winning races and taking the title.

Although expectations are high for the young Briton, who starred in his rookie season by winning four races and getting close to the world title, he appears ready to bear the burden and help return McLaren to the pinnacle of the sport after a turbulent 2007 campaign. Now paired with former Renault driver Heikki Kovalainen, instead of double world champion Fernando Alonso, Hamilton will be seen as team leader at Woking, and is determined to live up to that mantle right from the off.

The second-year driver will help unveil McLaren's 2008 charger in Germany on Monday, before taking to the track alongside Kovalainen in the days that follow, and he has already set his sights higher than last season.

"I'd love to dominate this season - wouldn't that be cool," he told Briton's Sun newspaper, "I know people said that when [Michael] Schumacher won all the time F1 was boring because Ferrari were always on top but, as long as the racing is exciting, it should not be a problem."

With McLaren having been slapped with a $100m dollar fine for its part in last year's spying scandal and with two second-year pilots leading its assault on the championship, the exact strength of its campaign remains to be seen, and Hamilton is not taking anything for granted, particularly after the battle with Ferrari in 2007.

"I cannot say for certain [that] I will win the world championship this year, but I know I have got the ability to win the title - as I proved last year," he reasoned, "I really want to win it after coming so close last year. I think the other drivers were a bit surprised how well I did, but I earned their respect and they will know what to expect from me this year."

McLaren's launch coincides with Hamilton's 23rd birthday, and the Briton will get his first run in the MP4-23 in Spain less than 24 hours after the wraps come off in Stuttgart. Finding that the car is immediately on the pace will be the best present of all, as he aims to add to his four debut season victories and take the fight to Ferrari, which unveils its title defender in Italy today [Sunday].

 

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