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Hamilton still has ‘utmost respect’ for Vettel despite Baku spat

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Lewis Hamilton says his relationship with Sebastian Vettel remains unchanged despite their clash and spat in Baku two weeks ago, claiming to have the “utmost respect” for his Formula 1 title rival.

Vettel and Hamilton came to blows behind the safety car during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with the latter receiving a penalty for dangerous driving when he side-swiped Hamilton at slow speed.

Hamilton told NBCSN after the race that he believed the lack of serious penalty set a “dangerous precedent” for the future, and was quoted by foreign media as saying Vettel had been “a disgrace”.

The clash was investigated by the FIA, who opted to take no further action, with Hamilton and Vettel facing the media for the first time since the ruling in Thursday’s press conference ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

When asked if the matter was over, Hamilton said: “It is for me yeah. I’m solely focused on this weekend. I said everything I felt I needed to say at the last race and just left it there.”

The Mercedes driver went on to reveal that he spoke with Vettel about the incident the day after the race, believing that their cordial rivalry and relationship had not changed.

“Sebastian and I spoke after the race on the Monday and then shortly after that he messaged me the day after,” Hamilton said.

“For me, I just said that I still have the utmost respect for him as a driver and will continue to race him hard throughout the rest of the season in the same way I always have. No less hard than we have already up until now.”

Hamilton did, however, want to make clear that he did not brake-test Vettel, as he had been accused of doing.

“My only point to Sebastian was him saying that I had brake-tested him. I said I hope you can correct that in public because people who were watching felt that was something I did and the data obviously showed that was not the case,” Vettel said.

“In actual fact he accelerated. I think he wanted to be as close as possible to me but that was an error in judgment.

“My only point there in my reply to him was that I hope he makes that clear because there was no need for me to do something like that because I was in the lead.

“I accept his apology and we move forward.”

” I’m happy to hear that it doesn’t seem to have a big impact [on their relationship]” added Vettel.

“Obviously what I did was wrong and I apologized. I think it’s totally up to Lewis. I did a mistake and it’s nice to hear that we’re able to move forward.

“I think the respect we have for each other on track, off track, it helps us in this regard.”

Regarding his post-race comments, Hamilton did not wish to take anything he said back, but was happy to move on from the incident and leave it in the past.

“I don’t feel I was particularly upset after the race. If I was it was for other reasons but I don’t feel like I said anything that I would wish to take back,” Hamilton said.

“I’m still under the same opinion of what happened but it is water under the bridge now.

“We have spoken about it and want to move forward so there is no point in saying much more.”

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.