• AFP-JIJI

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Lewis Hamilton believes his all-conquering Mercedes is even better than last year as he begins his bid to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world championships on Sunday at the Australian Grand Prix, which was given the green light to go ahead despite coronavirus fears.

The British driver has been the dominant force in recent times, winning five of the previous six titles, including in 2019 when he surpassed legendary five-time Argentine champion Juan Manuel Fangio.

“It’s been intense, with a huge amount of work from everybody at the track and back home at the factories,” the 35-year-old said of his team’s preparations, which have been overshadowed by concerns about the virus and its impact on the sport.

“The car’s feeling like a step forward from last year,” Hamilton added after preseason testing. “But it’s clear we’ve still got a few issues we need to iron out.”

Mercedes heads into the race with a new dual-axis steering system (DAS), which has inevitably sparked complaints from other teams about its legality.

There were fears the race, which takes place in Melbourne, may be canceled due to travel restrictions affecting team personnel, particularly from Italy-based Ferrari.

But the event is going ahead with ticket sales “very strong,” in contrast to next week’s race in Bahrain, which will be run behind closed doors to combat spread of the disease.

The Chinese Grand Prix in April has already been postponed.

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