JEREZ, Spain Feb 7 This year's Formula One title race looks wide open to Red Bull's triple world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Asked whether he still saw Britain's Lewis Hamilton as a contender now that the 2008 champion has moved from race winners McLaren to the Mercedes team that was far less competitive last year, the German nodded.
"Yes, of course. I think the way that least season started, with a lot of different teams and drivers winning the races, there's nothing that speaks against it happening again this year," he told reporters after his first drive of the new Red Bull RB9 on Thursday.
"The regulations haven't really changed. At some stage I think it will be getting even closer at the top and therefore everyone is in the hunt."
Last year started with seven different winners in the opening seven races and ended as a duel between Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso as the top teams got on top of the Pirelli tyres.
Pirelli have changed the compounds for this year with the aim of encouraging overtaking and introducing more stops.
Vettel cited the example of Williams, who won in Spain last year because they were fast rather than lucky, and suggested the same could happen again with less-fancied teams enjoying their moment in the spotlight.
"We have to wait and see. Even if after the last Barcelona test you have a certain favourite, it could be all different in Australia. It's a different track and a different temperature. It's going to be a long season," he said.
The season starts in Australia on March 17.
Vettel's view contrasted to that of Alonso, who told reporters this month that he expected the race wins to be divided between three teams with Ferrari having to make sure they were one of them. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Tom Pilcher)