Lewis Hamilton said he hopes the 2008 Formula 1 season will be about more than just a McLaren vs Ferrari battle for honours as was witnessed in 2007, whilst underlining his belief that the forthcoming campaign represents a 'fresh start' for his Woking-based ?quipe.

The young Briton - who was narrowly pipped to the drivers' laurels by Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen in the final race of last year in Brazil - predicted the new regulations, including most prominently the ban on electronic driver aids such as traction control, would likely have little impact on the established status quo, but added he hoped some other teams may be able to hoist themselves into the mix along the way to spice things up a bit.

"Whether Fernando [Alonso] will be up at the front we don't know," he said of his ex team-mate, who has now returned to his former championship-winning Renault squad, "but I really do hope there will be other teams up there with us, and more than just two F1 teams racing for the championship."

As to his own chances of rectifying the dramatic manner in which he missed out on the crown that had looked practically bought and paid for in the Interlagos finale, the recently-turned 23-year-old is clearly unperturbed, and in bullish spirits.

"The team are developing the car and working hard to make sure it is as good as it can possibly be," Hamilton underlined at the launch of the new McLaren-Mercedes MP4-23 in Stuttgart this week, where he also received an impromptu rendition of 'Happy Birthday To You' from the German members of the audience. "After that it's down to us to put in the mileage and move the team forward.

"I think [his bond with the team] is as strong as ever. In any situation you're in, when you go through an experience with a group of people, it definitely does build tension, but at the same time I think the relationship grows. They've known me for so many years; they know I'd do anything for the team, and they know how hard I work to put that car at the front.

"I honestly feel comfortable with the team this year, and I don't believe Heikki [Kovalainen] will have any problems at all adapting to his new environment. I, as do all the team, welcome him and want to give him as much of an opportunity as possible to feel acquainted.

"I feel great right now. I've done a lot of really good preparation already, way before my first test [of the new car], and I just believe that it's a fresh start for us all. We've turned over a new leaf, and with the experience of last year I do feel even stronger than I was. I'm extremely excited about the first race."



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