That’s according to Sky Sports F1 pundit David Croft.
Hamilton won his fifth world championship last year, edging out Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 88 points thanks to a strong second half of the season.
That was the Brit’s fourth title in the last five seasons with his team, Mercedes, having dominated the sport’s current hybrid engine era by winning both drivers’ and constructors’ championships since 2014.
But pre-season testing in Barcelona recently indicated that Ferrari would be the quicker of the two teams this season, Hamilton himself acknowledging there could even be a gap as big as half-a-second per lap between the Scuderia and the Silver Arrows.
Hamilton is widely believed to be the best driver on the grid but a succession of errors meant Vettel did not truly put the 34-year-old to the test last year after the two were closely matched at the halfway mark.
Hamilton’s biggest challenge over the past five years has come from former team-mate Nico Rosberg, the only man to beat him to the title in the past five years – doing so in 2016 as he won by just five points and promptly retired after an exhaustive duel.
Yet Croft thinks the defending champion is well aware of the test he is in for this year – which gets underway with tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix (5.10am start UK time).
And with young and hungry Charles Leclerc also now racing for the Prancing Horse, Hamilton could find himself under threat from both Ferraris.
Lead Sky Sports commentator Croft said: “Is Lewis Hamilton walking through the paddock with a confident swagger? Because I haven’t seen that yet.
“So yes I think it is going to be certainly the toughest [season for him] in recent years.
“He’s paying tribute to his team a lot, which I think is acting as a motivational prop for those back at [the team’s bases in] Brixworth and Brackley.
“He’s saying, ‘We’re in it to win it.’ But he knows full well that is not the fastest car.
“Ferrari have been impressive in pre-season testing. [Although] That’s not to say Mercedes have got a really bad car.
“This is one of the beauties of this season. We could sit and talk for five hours and we still wouldn’t have a definitive agreement amongst us all about who’s the fastest car and who’s going to win the championship.
“That’s the best thing about 2019. It is wide, wide open. But this Lewis Hamilton is not the confident Lewis Hamilton we’ve seen in recent years.”
Hamilton is looking for his first win in Melbourne since 2015 and only the third of his career despite sitting on pole on seven occasions.
Published at Sat, 16 Mar 2019 02:21:00 +0000