Nigel Mansell believes reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton must be considered as the overwhelming favourite to win the 2018 Formula 1 title.

Hamilton took nine victories on his way to beating Sebastian Vettel to his fourth world championship crown in 2017, as Mercedes enjoyed another year at the top of F1’s pecking order, despite coming under serious pressure from a revitalised Ferrari. 

His title success saw him surpass Sir Jackie Stewart as the only British driver to win more than three championships and 1992 world champion Mansell reckons Hamilton will prevail once more this season. 

"There is no question that Lewis and Mercedes are the clear favourites again," Mansell told Press Association Sport.

"Lewis has got many more years in him if he has got the appetite, and I can see no reason why he cannot win a few more world championships and set the bar very high for the future.

"I just hope for the good of Formula 1 that Ferrari, Red Bull and even McLaren can put a challenge to Mercedes so we can have some exciting racing.

"You mustn't underestimate the great job that Ferrari did last year - although they had problems and Sebastian had a few races that went the wrong way - without their tremendous strive to win the championship it wouldn't have been as exciting as it was.

"I hope they continued in that vein over the winter, and hopefully Red Bull have found some more power from their Renault engine, too.”

Hamilton is entering the final year of his contract at Mercedes, and while the reigning world champions are confident the Briton will shortly sign a new deal, Hamilton’s future is likely to be the source of debate until an official announcement is made.

There are potential openings at both Ferrari and Red Bull for 2019 with Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo also in the final year of their respective contracts, while McLaren boss Zak Brown recently admitted he would welcome Hamilton back for a second spell at the Woking-based outfit. 

"I would be very surprised if Lewis did not sign a new deal with Mercedes," Mansell replied when asked about Hamilton’s contract situation. "But if Red Bull or Ferrari were to do something special over the winter by making the jump over Mercedes, and then offer Lewis an incredible deal, who knows?

"At the moment however, Lewis has the world at his feet, he is in the best car and at the best team, so why would you want to change it?

"Some people in their careers are very privileged to be in a strong position and Lewis is one of those because he can afford to be patient. When the time is right for him, he will sign on the dotted line."

Hamilton is due to join his team at Silverstone on Thursday as Mercedes unveils its 2018 contender, the W09 - which the German manufacturer hopes will propel it to both world championships for the fifth successive year. 

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