Lewis Hamilton believes it is “far too early” to say Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas is his only rival for this year’s Formula 1 drivers’ championship, despite the duo stealing a march on the rest of the field in the early part of the 2019 season.

Hamilton and Bottas took two wins and two second-place finishes apiece as Mercedes recorded an unprecedented four one-two finishes to start the season.

Bottas leads Hamilton by a single point at the top of the drivers’ championship by virtue of his fastest lap in Australia, with third-place Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari already 35 points off the top of the standings.

However, Hamilton said following Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix that it is still too early in the year to define the title fight in 2019 as being a two-horse race between the Mercedes drivers.

“It’s far too early to say that one person is the title rival,” Hamilton said.

“Ferrari this weekend had good pace in practice and in qualifying. I think if both cars delivered as we delivered, and their drivers delivered as we delivered, I think it would have been a lot closer.

“But we still have to stay on our toes. We didn’t bring an upgrade this weekend and Ferrari did, so it’s a little bit of a surprise performance-wise, because at some stage we will bring an upgrade.”

Asked how he saw his relationship with Bottas changing through a possible title fight, Hamilton said: "I can’t tell you what’s going to happen further in the year. I can’t judge if one’s character will change or not.

"Drivers in the past didn’t stick to the rules of engagement that we have as a team, and Valtteri does."

Hamilton added that he thought the margins between the title contenders in 2019 “appear smaller” than they were last year, but relished the prospect of a difficult fight for a potential sixth world title.

“Last year I think they were pretty tight as well on numerous occasions. But you want it to be the toughest battle,” Hamilton said.

“Then when you do achieve your goals, or reach your goals, then it’s even more satisfying.

“But that’s when you do, this weekend I didn’t, so a long way still with a certain feeling, and I’ll harness it.”



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