Lewis Hamilton has issued a warning to Formula 1 world title rival Sebastian Vettel by declaring he wants to beat him "at his best because then it’s more painful".

The reigning F1 world champion is eager to see his fellow title contenders close the performance gap on Mercedes to produce more competitive racing this season because he feels that is where he can excel.

After getting the better for his fellow four-time F1 world champion last year, including their on-track clash behind the safety car during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Hamilton wants Vettel in his best form so he can deliver a mental blow in their race to a fifth title in 2018.

“I want him [Vettel] to be at his best because then it’s more painful for them when you do out-perform them,” Hamilton said. “I’m sure if you asked Federer, he will truly believe that if he’s trained hard and arrived feeling great, there’s no-one that can touch him.

“You have to be convinced that will be the case. That’s what you work towards. I don’t prepare myself and then hope that the next guy has issues so I can capitalise on them.”

Turning focus to his own preparations, Hamilton says he’s on track to be at his strongest for the start of the 2018 F1 season as he targets a fifth title and fourth in five years.

“For my mindset, if I am at my best then I should have no problems,” he said. “If I prepare myself in the best way and I am as fit as I can be and I have the most energy and I’m feeling healthy, I’ve come with the right approach as I’m working hard, then I truly believe I won’t have any problems.”

Hamilton ended the first pre-season F1 test at the top of the times with a fastest lap of 1m 19.333s set on Pirelli’s medium tyres with the Mercedes W09 but completed the fifth-fewest laps of all full-time drivers with just 94 laps. The British driver said he “sacrificed” track time for teammate Valtteri Bottas at the first test while snow and cold conditions also hampered his running opportunities.

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