MONTMELO, Spain -- Lewis Hamilton may be a four-time world champion, but he is still keen to prove he is the best driver in Formula One on a level playing field.
Hamilton returned to action in pre-season testing this week, setting the fastest time of the test on Thursday afternoon in his new Mercedes W09. His team is expected to continue its four-year reign at the top of the sport this season but is facing increasing competition from rivals Ferrari and Red Bull after both closed the gap in performance to Mercedes last year.
But rather than see a return to the domination Mercedes enjoyed between 2014 and 2016, Hamilton hopes there is nothing to choose between the top teams this year.
"The closer it is, the better it is when you win," he said after completing 69 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya on Thursday. "You want the guys you are racing to have a level playing field so that you can really show that there are only small differences between us as drivers.
"You want to be able to show that and it's magnified if the cars are all the same."
Hamilton beat Sebastian Vettel to the F1 title last season after Ferrari's campaign petered out in the final third of the year.
But asked if he was thinking of ways to exploit Vettel's weaknesses this year, Hamilton added: "Honestly I just don't focus too much on anyone else. I think ultimately for me and my mindset, if I am at my best then I should have no problems. That's how I approach it.
"If I prepare myself in the best way and am as fit as I can be and I have the most energy and I'm feeling healthy, I've come with the right approach, I'm working hard, then I truly believe I won't have any problems. That's generally what all the drivers will think. That's what you have to think.
"It's the same for a tennis player at their best. I'm sure if you asked [Roger] Federer, he will truly believe that if he's trained hard and arrived feeling great, there's no-one that can touch him. You have to be convinced that will be the case. That's what you work towards.
"So I don't prepare myself and then hope that the next guy has issues so I can capitalise on them, I want him to be at his best because then it's more painful for them when you do out-perform them."