Australian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton say they are relishing the prospect of battling each other for the Formula 1 title in 2017.
While Vettel went on to claim four straight drivers’ titles, Hamilton never managed a full-season challenge in that time.
After defeating poleman Hamilton in a straight fight in the 2017 opener in Melbourne, Vettel admitted he was excited by the thought of a season-long contest.
“He’s proven to be one of the quickest drivers on the grid and for sure I would love to have a close battle,” said Vettel.
“Obviously right now it looks like we have equal machinery. I hope it stays that way and then we will see how it turns out.
“It’s obviously a lot of fun to race for victories and a lot of fun to race against the best.”
Vettel said he had “great respect” for three-time champion Hamilton, which the British driver said was mutual.
Hamilton described it as “a privilege to be racing” at the same time as Vettel and hoped it would be possible to fight wheel-to-wheel this year.
“We’re now finally at a period of time when we can actually have a real race,” Hamilton said.
“I wish we could race a lot closer in the cars that we have today but still I think the fact that we are similar pace-wise, it’s going to be a very, very hard slog this season.
“It’s going to be physically and mentally demanding but as Sebastian said, racing the best is what Formula 1 is all about and ultimately makes you work that much harder, having to raise the bar, and I’m looking forward to that.”
Vettel not getting carried away
Victory in Australia was Vettel’s fourth grand prix win since joining Ferrari for the 2015 season, and means he leads the drivers’ standings for the Scuderia for the first time.
Vettel insisted he was “not interested” in making predictions about how the championship would unfold after only one race.
“Definitely the first race is not the time to look at the table,” he said. “As I’ve said before, you really have to go step by step.
“It’s good to know that we have a great car but it’s just the beginning: new regulations, new generations of cars, so there will be a lot of progress.
“For today I am just very happy and whatever happens this year, the race today doesn’t hurt.”