Lewis Hamilton has delivered an ominous warning to his Formula One rivals by vowing to improve on his virtually-flawless championship-winning campaign.
Hamilton emerged from his winter hibernation at Silverstone on Wednesday to get his first taste of the Mercedes he hopes will fire him to a sixth world title.
Last year, the British star delivered the season of his career, winning 11 of the 21 races, to beat Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and secure his fifth championship with two rounds remaining.
And – as he enters the first campaign of a new two-year Mercedes deal which will earn him a staggering £40million-a-season – he says he is ready to continue his dominance of the sport.
“2018 was a great year, but I feel like 2019 can be even better,” he said.
“I want to achieve more, I want to continue to keep pushing. I feel energised and I am ready to attack.”
Hamilton retreated for his off-season break mired in all-too familiar controversy after he likened his home town Stevenage to a “slum” at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards in December.
During the live broadcast, Hamilton immediately retracted the reference, and the criticism aimed at him was unfair.
Away from the public glare, he admitted to cutting back on social media, but also spoke of his joy at tackling the waves with former surfing world champion, Kelly Slater, and obtaining a skydiving licence.
He joked that Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff would be his first passenger.
Hamilton is entering the 13th season of his remarkable career, and will move to within just one title of Michael Schumacher’s record haul of seven should he triumph again this term.
But the Englishman, who remains the only black driver to have competed in F1, is keen to make his reach felt beyond the sport.
“I have this great platform and I want to achieve more, but there is a much, much bigger picture to what I am involved in, and what I and my family represent,” he added.
“What is driving me right now is to continue to push for diversity and change, not only in my sport, but also in the world, encouraging young people to dream big and really putting it out there in the universe.
“I have to keep pushing, keep evolving and keep driving. If I am not moving forward than I feel like I am not breathing.”
After turning 34 last month, only Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica – the Pole who is back in F1 after an absence of eight years following an horrific rally crash – are older than Hamilton.
But the Mercedes star added: “I still feel young, I still feel fit, I feel strong and I have still got it.
“If you look at fire, it is a beautiful thing. You see the flame is constantly shifting, and that is the same in my heart every single year.
“It is burning bright, and it couldn’t really be any more powerful, stronger or hotter than it is, but it is constantly evolving and flourishing.”
Hamilton, who will take part in the opening winter test in Barcelona on Monday, will be partnered by Valtteri Bottas for a third-successive season with Mercedes looking to win a record-equalling sixth consecutive constructors’ championship.
“When we met after the winter break, Lewis was refreshed,” said Wolff. “He’s extremely hungry and wants to start racing again.
“We start the season with zero points, so we’re taking nothing for granted and there’s absolutely no feeling of entitlement to be at the front.
“We have to start from scratch, we need to prove ourselves again, against our own expectations and against our competitors.”