Lewis Hamilton has begun the 2019 Formula 1 season in close competition with teammate Valtteri Bottas, echoing the intense rivalry he shared with Nico Rosberg between 2013 and 2016.
The pair have shared a victory each in the opening two races of this year’s calendar, with the Finn currently leading Hamilton by a solitary point ahead of this weekend’s Grand Prix in Shanghai.
The 34-year-old is chasing a sixth Drivers’ Championship, having completed a second set of back-to-back wins with last year’s crown.
A third consecutive title in 2019 would leave the Brit just one short of Michael Schumacher’s record of seven, and former F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone believes such a target is well within reach.
"There is no reason why he shouldn't," said the 88-year-old.
"He is the only real character we have got in the sport, and it is a pity there are not two or three drivers like him.
"Lewis is super and there is no doubt about that. Alongside his fashion business, it is almost as if he now treats Formula One as a hobby.
Ecclestone also spoke of how Hamilton, who has won four of the last five championships, had come to dominate the sport.
"Lewis is the best and worst thing to happen to Formula One.
"The best, because he is Formula One. The worst, because he takes so much of the attention for himself and that is not his fault.
"I wouldn't like to think anyone is bigger than Formula One but he is certainly bigger than anyone else, even any of the teams.
"We have a Formula One superstar in England, but do we appreciate him? Probably not."
Despite his credentials as arguably the sport’s greatest of the century, Hamilton will have to adapt to the unfamiliar status of underdog heading into Shanghai.
His Ferrari counterpart Sebastian Vettel is being tipped as the likely winner by many, especially after Hamilton appeared to have struggled with the car in practice on Thursday.
Vettel is in desperate need of a victory, having last won a race at Spa last August, and being increasingly compared to rising star and new teammate Charles Leclerc, who is being tipped as Ferrari’s next No.1.
Despite this, Ecclestone, who is a close friend of Vettel's, was keen to stress that the German would move against any such switch.
"Maybe he is now thinking that Charles is going to be the top driver, and that he will have to support him. He won't move over. He won't let that happen."
In the third race of the year, the Chinese Grand Prix will not only be an important test for this season’s early pacesetters, but also of the durability of some of the old guard, as the next generation begins to establish itself in the sport.News Now - Sport News