Lewis Hamilton says he will need to raise his game in 2019 to stay ahead of rising Formula 1 starlets Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.
Hamilton wrapped up this year’s world championship with two races to spare to seal his fifth drivers’ title, four of which have been achieved in the last five years with Mercedes.
The Briton has come out on top of direct title battles with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the last two years but he is bracing himself for an added challenge in the shape of emerging talents such as Verstappen and Leclerc.
An impressive rookie season has led Ferrari to promote Leclerc alongside Vettel for 2019, while Verstappen has enjoyed a strong end to the 2018 campaign with Red Bull, which is expecting even greater performance when it joins forces with Honda next year.
“To this point in my life, this is the highest point of my career in terms of my own performance, how I perform with the team but there are always areas to improve,” Hamilton said.
“We will definitely look at the season at the end of the year and there are always areas you look at, we didn’t win every single race, there were some mishaps at the beginning of the year and there is always room to improve.
“So I expect to do that and that’s my expectation in myself. I have got to work in this winter and there will be a slightly amended approach.
“Of course, you have to dig deep and you have these young kids that are coming. Leclerc at Ferrari will be hungry to prove a point, you’ve got Max who is still hungry to prove a point, so I have to make sure I am still there [at the top of my game].”
Leclerc, who has scored 33 points in his first F1 season to help Sauber improve to its current position of eighth place in the constructors’ standings, said it was an “honour” to hear Hamilton single him out as a threat for 2019.
"It's definitely an honour to hear that from Lewis," Leclerc said. "He's an incredible driver, and I've watched him since quite a bit of years before arriving in Formula 1.
"I'll just try to do the best I can next year, but it's definitely not going to be easy. He's very experienced and an amazing driver. But it's definitely good to hear that."