Lewis Hamilton feels both Red Bull and Ferrari have been able to produce a greater jump in performance in 2018 but have benefitted from playing catch-up to “pioneering” Mercedes.

The reigning Formula 1 world champion grabbed the drivers’ points lead for the first time this year at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix when victory was somewhat unexpectedly handed to him after Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas suffered a late tyre puncture while leading.

Having claimed just one win and one pole position from the opening four races – with Ferrari tasting victory twice and Red Bull taking the other triumph – Hamilton says it’s clear to see the level of performance between the top three teams has evened out this year but feels it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

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After four years of Mercedes dominance in F1 under stable engine regulations Hamilton says the anticipated performance gap had always been likely to close as “it’s always easier catching up”.

“I think the others have definitely stepped up, we’ve made a step forward but they’ve made a bigger leap and all the other teams are a lot closer,” Hamilton said. “It’s always easier to catch up.

“To be pioneering, which we have been for the last four years, this team has been exceptional.

“I remember being at McLaren, it was always easier catching up than arriving with a car that was ahead of everyone else’s. That is what this team [Mercedes] is usually always able to do. We arrived at the first race and we were ahead of everyone but there were certain operations and things in the background that could do better.

“As a whole team we’ve got to operate better and that’s what we are working towards. There are small percentages that can make a difference.”

Hamilton has reiterated his faith in Mercedes rediscovering a vital performance edge on its front-running rivals in a similar style to 2017 when it fought off a resurgence from Ferrari. Central to the British driver’s frustrations has been finding a comfortable operating window with Pirelli’s 2018 tyre compounds but the four-time F1 world champion is confident Mercedes can return to form.

“We’re still the same team and I believe we can battle it out with these guys,” he said. “Now we’ve got Red Bull close to their best and then Ferrari at their best.

“If we are able to pull through and deliver as we have in previous years it will be the biggest achievement this team will have accomplished.”

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