Formula One: Hamilton relishing battles ahead as sport faces more scrutiny

Lewis Hamilton gestures to the crowd during the drivers parade before the start of the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Lewis Hamilton gestures to the crowd during the drivers parade before the start of the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. PHOTO: AFP

MANAMA (AFP) - Three-time drivers world champion Lewis Hamilton says he relishes the prospect of another wheel-to-wheel scrap with Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg and the Ferrari team at this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix.

The 31-year-old Briton, who finished second behind Rosberg at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, has been involved in previous thrilling and close battles with the German at the Bahrain International Circuit.

And he fought back after a bad start in Australia to help Mercedes deliver a one-two at the opening race after a fight to catch and overhaul the Ferrari drivers, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel and the Finnish 2007 title-winner Kimi Raikkonen.

"I'm excited by the thought that there will be more races like Melbourne," said Hamilton. "We know there are going to be weekends where we are a few seconds up the road ahead of the Ferrari (team), races where it's wheel to wheel and some races where they might be ahead.

"At the moment, we really don't know what lies ahead and that makes it exciting. Bahrain has been very entertaining for the past two seasons so more of the same would be great for everyone."

Vettel and Raikkonen made the most of slow starts by the two Mercedes men in Melbourne to take control of the race and lead for more than half of the distance before they were reeled in - partly due to tyre strategy decisions - and overhauled.

This weekend, Ferrari expect to be stronger still and may have a good early opportunity to break the Mercedes grip on early-season victories. Rosberg said: "We've stepped up our game once again this year, but Ferrari were a real threat all weekend in Melbourne and it's clear that we've got a big battle on our hands.

"I've had some great battles in Bahrain in the last two years, with Lewis and the Ferraris, so I'm expecting more of the same and looking forward to that..."

Team boss Toto Wolff confirmed that Mercedes fear Ferrari more than ever this weekend, but added that he was as worried about the sport's image and the likelihood of another fiasco in qualifying on Saturday.

A new format of 'progressive elimination' in which a driver was knocked out every 90 seconds resulted in near-uproar in Melbourne when the session ended without a car on the track.

An immediate unanimous decision by the teams to revert to the former system of qualifying, in three timed mini-sessions without individual eliminations, failed to gain the full support of the F1 Commission.

As a result, the much-maligned new format will be used again in the hot and dry conditions at the Bahrain track at Sakhir, 30 kilometres south-west of the island capital Manama.

Since the Australian race, the drivers have voiced their concerns at the knee-jerk decision-making system and called for an overhaul of the administration of the sport.

In an open letter, the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) said the rules structure was "obsolete" and in need of reform - a position that was quickly supported by F1's veteran commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone.

As the circus flies in to Bahrain, there will be as much attention paid - once again - to the politics in the paddock and beyond as the action out on track.