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First F1 race points to a season of thrills

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton

"For sure I would love to have a close battle", said Vettel.

Lewis Hamilton said on Thursday he wanted a season-long world title joust with Sebastian Vettel and declared Ferrari as the team to beat in this weekend's Australian Formula One Grand Prix.

Hamilton's Mercedes team have dominated F1 for the past three years and it was hoped the changes would make the grid more competitive and the win for Vettel and Ferrari delivered that in the first race.

"We had an exceptional run the last three years".

Asked directly if he believed he was facing a tougher challenge in 2017 than presented by the now-retired Nico Rosberg, Hamilton replied: "Definitely".

"You are seeing the best against the best", he told reporters. "Of course it would be great to have Fernando [Alonso of McLaren] up there but it doesn't look like it is going to happen any time soon".

"I am really grateful to have that fight with him, against Ferrari which is the next best team, and there is a top driver there, too". And that factor hindered Hamilton's task of passing Vettel during the closing stages.

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That win in Singapore was also the last time Ferrari had topped the podium but Vettel's victory at Albert Park underlined the huge leap in performance made by the team, who were encouraged by their cars' pace and reliability in winter testing.

"I don't know if it was exciting for you guys to watch, but for me personally I want to be closer up with cars and more close, wheel-to-wheel battling".

"It's obviously a lot of fun to race for victories and a lot of fun to race against the best". We stayed out, the tyres were still holding on and the pace looked alright.

Jake Michaels is a multi-sport journalist but his heart belongs truly to motorsport, particularly Formula 1.

Arrivabene expressed satisfaction at the performance of Ferrari's new race vehicle, the SF70H. For Hamilton, he had to get the start absolutely right. Hamilton managed to eke out a lead over Vettel, raising the gap to two seconds in the opening stint, but it was still nowhere near enough to give Mercedes any kind of comfort.

Ricciardo's traumatic race came to a sorry end on the 29th lap, with his Red Bull coming to a stop with lingering gear-box problems.

The German emerged just in front of the pair, saw off Verstappen's attack into Turn 3 and built a lead of six seconds by the time the Dutchman entered the pits two laps later, releasing Hamilton. Hamilton never came close to catching him.

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