By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Five times world champion Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes should not be blamed for their dominance and he would far rather be in a battle with Formula One rivals Ferrari and Red Bull than team mate Valtteri Bottas.
Champions Mercedes have won all five races so far this season in one-two formation, with Hamilton and Bottas also taking a fastest lap each.
The two Mercedes drivers are just seven points apart, Hamilton leading after three wins, but a gulf separates them from the rest.
“People watching might be unhappy with the gap we have to the Ferraris. Of course we want to be as quick as we can be, we don’t know why the others have fallen off a little bit,” Hamilton told reporters after Sunday’s race.
“It’s not our fault. It’s not these guys’ (his team mates)fault that they are really great at their job.”
The Briton has in the last two seasons, when Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was his main challenger, compared the title battle to the tennis duels fought out by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The 34-year-old has not spoken that way this year, with Bottas the only man to have beaten him in what has become an internal team battle ever since the opening race in Australia.
“It’s just not as much fun, for sure, as when you are competing against another team. That’s what Formula One is about,” said Hamilton.
“That’s the exciting part, when you’re competing against one or two other teams who are also bringing their A game. That puts another spanner in the mix.
“…It’s awesome. But when that’s not there, it’s definitely a lot less exciting from a competition point of view.”
Hamilton previously had Nico Rosberg, the now-retired 2016 champion in a season when Mercedes won 19 of the 21 races, as his main rival and that led to a breakdown in relations between the former friends.
Bottas is a different character, and there is still plenty of respect with team boss Toto Wolff assuring reporters there would be no repeat of 2016.
Hamilton said Mercedes were still working as hard as ever, pushing the car to the limit.
“It’s not like we go to the race and because we have a margin we back off,” he explained.
“We are pedal-to-the-metal, and Valtteri right there pushing all the way,” he said. “So I still have to deliver just as if a Ferrari was (right) behind me.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by…)