Hamilton laps up crowd's cheers at F1 season launch party in Melbourne

Lewis Hamilton records the fastest lap time in the practice session of the Melbourne Grand Prix on Friday

F1: 2019 Australian Grand Prix Preview

The pressure is arguably heavier on the shoulders of German rival Sebastian Vettel, who won just five races past year and saw his challenge evaporate with a string of mistakes on track.

However, Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari are seen as the early team to beat ahead of this weekend's season-opener in Melbourne and Hamilton knows Mercedes have their work cut out.

"It's not hard to read it", he said of Mercedes pre-season form.

"I think it was quite clear, however it's hard to know what everyone's doing, so naturally we won't fully know until we get out in the auto tomorrow and, come qualifying you get a better picture".

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"Judging from the performance in Barcelona, it looks like we will have a proper fight on our hands", Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said to BBC. It's a massively long season, and always with some regulation changes like this year is going to be a lot about how much you can improve the auto, because the cars in Abu Dhabi are going to be so much quicker than this weekend. New information gets put in the wind tunnel, the engineers have new information and they work upon it.

"Everyone takes a step after testing". We didn't bring upgrades.

Asked about the importance of winning the first race, Hamilton said: "It's a long, long season so I don't particularly feel it is the most important thing, it is about finishing races and getting as many points as you can but I am not really one for needing to stamp authority".

After a winter trying to forget the 2018 season, Bottas said he returns to racing this year with a new mindset.

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Philip Morris last week agreed to drop the branding for Australia, but said it continued to believe it "complies with relevant laws related to our activities around the world". "Over the years, I think the approach to races has changed, so I have a lot of things to discover but I am looking forward to it". If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

"I'm sure with analysing everything and making some improvements we've been able to recover some of that, but how much is only guessing". The communication is better than ever. We think they're going to be strong because Honda looks strong now as well and they've always had a good vehicle.

"And we don't know how much they've improved". It's just feeling how the auto handles and how the balance is, we know there is definitely more to come. "It is the second debut for me after being away from the sport for many years".

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