Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas has emerged as his closest rival for the 2019 Formula 1 world championship.

Mercedes entered the campaign expecting Ferrari to lead the way following its strong showing in pre-season testing, but the Scuderia is yet to record a race win, while the reigning world champions have scored five successive one-two finishes.

With Mercedes holding a 96-point lead over Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, the five-time world champion reckons teammate Bottas is now his biggest threat. Hamilton currently heads the championship by seven points to Bottas, with the Briton claiming three victories to Bottas’ two so far.

“The biggest threat is always the person closest to you,” Hamilton said.

“We have a buffer to the other guys and even though the Red Bulls have picked up on their engines this year, they have not built a car as good as in previous years and Ferrari too have good power but are lacking areas.

“So the closest to you is always the biggest threat especially as Valtteri is pulling out some great laps. It is good for the team and he fully deserves his position in the team and it is great to see him step up to another level.”

Asked if he feels Mercedes can win all 21 races in 2019, Hamilton replied: “Who knows? We definitely did not expect to come in to the season winning the first five races, which is incredibly encouraging for everyone.

“Everyone is still pushing incredibly hard, which is still so great to see. It really is a phenomenal group of people. In the engineers' room, nobody is over-confident.

“We were just discussing improvements we could make and talking about how we could improve the car. They don't mind constructive criticism. They don't take it personally.

“I think this is the strongest team there is and has ever been and it would be hard to break that.”

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