Following his defeat to Sebastian Vettel in the season-opening Australian GP, Lewis Hamilton has said that this season looks as though it will be a battle of “the best against the best”.

Following on from an impressive performance during winter testing Ferrari claimed their first victory in almost two years when Vettel defeated Hamilton. While Vettel and Hamilton have claimed seven of the last nine F1 titles they have never driven head-to-head in a world championship fight.

After the race Hamilton said, “This year you are seeing the best against the best with the best drivers at the top”.

When asked if he thinks that this year will prove to be a bigger challenge than Nico Rosberg, Hamilton answered, “Definitely. I am really grateful to have that fight with him [Vettel], against Ferrari, which is the next best team. Finally, we can have an actual race. It is going to be close. I truly believe we can beat them. It’s great to see Ferrari there.”

Vettel was also full of praise for Hamilton saying “I have great respect for Lewis. He has proved to be one of the quickest drivers on the grid and l would love to have a close battle.”

Vettel managed to match Hamilton throughout the first part of the race and then took the lead after running five laps longer before taking a pit stop.

While Mercedes’ strategy seemed to fall apart when Hamilton returned to the race behind the slower Red Bull of Max Verstappen, the team insists that it was Ferrari’s pace that cost them the race rather than a tactical error.

Team chief Niki Lauda said, “It’s very straightforward: Ferrari were quicker. They dominated the race from beginning to end. Bringing in Lewis earlier or later wouldn’t have made any difference.”