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Hamilton and Vettel bury the hatchet ahead of F1 season-opener

Rivals Hamilton and Vettel bury the hatchet ahead of F1 season opener

The tension of a rivalry that produced "road rage" and acrimony between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel last year was absent yesterday, as both four-time Formula One champions played nice before this weekend's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

This year marks the first ever in the series that two quadruple champions go wheel-to-wheel and their battle to join Argentine legend Juan Manuel Fangio on five titles will be a talking point throughout the season.

The pair bumped wheels at an explosive Azerbaijan Grand Prix last year, prompting an angry outburst from Mercedes' Hamilton.

Fans will hope passions are high when the pair face off at Albert Park on Sunday and can remain so through a proper season-long tussle.

At the year's first pre-race news conference, however, they staged little more than a mutual appreciation society when comparing their challenges, trading smiles and light-hearted banter while sitting side-by-side.

"When you come to the end of your career, you want to know that you're competing against the best," said reigning champion Hamilton.

The 33-year-old overhauled Ferrari's Vettel last year to claim his third title with Mercedes.

I think there’re a lot of people who need to get headlines and that’s one way of doing it. Lewis Hamilton, responding to ex-Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg’s criticism

"There are those that bow out early, those that have one championship maybe, that has not been as competitive and the ultimate goal to be the best is that you're going to have to go up against the best.

"It's great because it's been a great experience for me to be able to race Sebastian. He's got the four world titles, had the most of any other driver at the time and I think this is an exciting year for Formula One fans being that we have two four-time world champions battling it out."

Vettel, who won four consecutive titles for Red Bull from 2010-13, was similarly generous to the driver he shook his fist at Baku last year, when he claimed the Briton had brake-tested him before their clash of wheels on track.

SATISFACTION

"He's done a very good job for many years now," the 30-year-old German said. "In my case, if I look at people I raced throughout my career, then you care about what it means to you and it gives you more satisfaction.

"And now I am searching for the ultimate satisfaction to win with Ferrari... and win against the best, which arguably Lewis is one of them."

Meanwhile, Hamilton also dismissed criticism from former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg as the product of someone seeking "headlines".

Rosberg, who beat Hamilton to the 2016 world championship before retiring, told Sky Sports this week that the Briton was "almost unbeatable" when on song but his "weakness" was a "bit of inconsistency".

Hamilton's long-standing relationship with Rosberg grew strained during their four years together at the Silver Arrows, and he responded by rebuking the German's remarks.

"I think I've proved that that's not the case last year," said Hamilton, referring to his nine wins on the way to last year's title.

"I think there're a lot of people who need to get headlines and that's one way of doing it.

"The goal this year is to be even more consistent than last year. I think consistency is the main reason I won the world championship last year."

However, both Hamilton and Vettel insisted that matching Fangio, whose record of five titles is second only to Michael Schumacher's seven, was the last thing on their minds.

Said Hamilton: "I've not (thought about it), honestly."

Vettel added: "I think nowadays the times are different, they are very different times to what Fangio achieved. Every era has its own challenges." - REUTERS

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