PARIS -- Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel start the Formula One season in Australia on March 25 within touching distance of further greatness.
A fifth world title would move one of the drivers level with Juan Manuel Fangio and second only to Michael Schumacher's seven.
Hamilton and Vettel share 109 victories (Hamilton 62, Vettel 47), 216 podiums (117-99) and 122 pole positions (72-50). Hamilton got his first title 10 years ago before Vettel won four in a row in 2010-2013.
But Hamilton has dominated since joining Mercedes. Last year's title was the British driver's third in four seasons to level at 4-4 with his Ferrari rival.
Next Sunday's season-opening Australian GP will be Vettel's 200th race, and fittingly the German is seeking his 100th F1 podium. Hamilton, meanwhile, seeks a record-extending 73rd pole and a 63rd GP victory.
Matching Fangio, the daring Argentine who won his titles in the 1950s when driving circumstances were extremely challenging, will make one of them truly stand out.
"[He was] the best we've ever had in terms of putting it all together," Vettel said of Fangio, while Hamilton described him as "the godfather of the sport" driving in "the most dangerous period of time."
F1 is far more safety-conscious these days, and risk-taking on track has greatly diminished. Still, this did not stop Vettel and Hamilton clashing last season. Gaining any sort of psychological advantage can prove important, considering they are hugely successful in their own right.
Hamilton, 33, has the edge with 47 victories and 50 poles but is three years older than his rival.
"It gets harder and I love that challenge. I love that I'm faced with this huge mountain to climb again," Hamilton said. "I've got to work harder than I've done before. Physically I'm stronger, I've put on muscle. I feel very strong mentally."
Although Hamilton has yet to sign a new contract with Mercedes, fueling talk he could walk away from F1 to pursue other interests at the end of the season, his hunger is still evident. Only Schumacher has more victories with 91.
Taking inspiration from veteran stars, such as 20-time Grand Slam tennis champion Roger Federer, helps Hamilton hit his targets. Persuading himself he's the best is an important part of that success.
"That's what you have to think. I'm sure if you asked Federer, he will truly believe that if he's trained hard and feeling great, there's no one that can touch him," Hamilton said. "You have to be convinced that will be the case."
Hamilton is friends with another tennis star, Serena Williams, who like Federer is 36. Hamilton clearly draws inspiration from athletes who have pushed back time.
"I look at these greats who continue to break barriers within their own performance. I keep going back to Federer, but he's back at the top," Hamilton said. "To have that drive: You've got family, you've got wealth, but still have that drive -- maybe it is part of the mark of a great. It's inspiring to see these iconic individuals continue to shine, and they're inspiring."
But even Hamilton concedes there are limits.
"I was playing tennis with my dad, trying to be Federer," Hamilton said. "I sucked, but it doesn't mean I can't try."
On the track, challenging Vettel will prove an arduous fight.
The 30-year-old has a huge point to prove this year after the way he capitulated at the Singapore GP last year.
Vettel was only three points behind Hamilton in the championship with seven races remaining. But he crashed from pole position and the nightmare scenario saw Hamilton win the race. It was the turning point of the season and Vettel never recovered.
"I can't wait to be in Australia," Vettel said. "I have confidence in our car I have a lot of confidence in our team, I know how skilled and committed the guys are."
As well as each other, Vettel and Hamilton -- who won 14 of 20 races in 2017 -- should also keep an eye on their wing mirrors this year.
Pre-season tests indicated Red Bull will be faster and -- crucially -- more reliable this time round.
Last season, drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo failed to finish a total of 13 races between them, an alarmingly high total for the team which won four consecutive drivers and constructors titles in 2010-2013 with Vettel.
But crashes aside, Red Bull also won three races, as many as Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas in a quicker and more trustworthy car.
With extra speed and consistency, Red Bull could be challenging for victory in a lot more races. They have two hungry drivers jostling to be No. 1 within their own team, which will add spice to the championship.
"Mercedes are probably just in front of us but Ferrari I'm not sure," Ricciardo said. "But I think we're going to be much closer than last year."
There will be some new faces on the grid in Melbourne.
F2 champion Charles Leclerc -- a highly rated 20-year-old who came through Ferrari's prestigious drivers' academy -- is racing for Sauber. Making his debut for Williams will be 22-year-old Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso will find out if it was worth his McLaren team changing engines from struggling Honda to Renault. If the 36-year-old Spaniard fails to add to his 97 career podiums -- the last was with Ferrari in 2014 -- this could well be his final year in F1.
The two-time F1 champion makes no secret of his ambition to win the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Le Mans 24 endurance race.
March 25 Australian GP (ESPN2) April 8 Bahrain GP (ESPN2) April 15 Chinese GP (ESPN2) April 29 Azerbaijan GP (ESPN2) May 13 Spanish GP (ESPN2) May 27 Monaco GP (ESPN) June 10 Canadian GP (ESPN) June 24 French GP (ESPN2) July 1 Austrian GP (ESPN2) July 8 British GP (ESPN) July 22 German GP (ESPN2) July 29 Hungarian GP (ESPN2) Aug. 26 Belgian GP (ESPN2) Sept. 2 Italian GP (ESPN2) Sept. 16 Singapore GP (ESPN2) Sept. 30 Russian GP (ESPN2) Oct. 7 Japanese GP (ESPN2) Oct. 21 United State SP (ABC) Oct. 28 Mexican GP (ABC) Nov. 11 Brazilian GP (ESPN2) Nov. 25 Abu Dhabi GP (ESPN2)
BASE Brackley, England CONSTRUCTORS TITLES 4 2017 CONSTRUCTORS FINISH 1st ENGINE Mercedes
LEWIS HAMILTON FROM Britain AGE 33 DEBUT 2007 Australian Grand Prix RACES 208 VICTORIES 62 POLE POSITIONS 72 (F1 record) 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 1st
VALTERRI BOTTAS FROM Finland AGE 28 DEBUT 2013 Australian Grand Prix RACES 98 VICTORIES 3 POLE POSITIONS 4 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 3rd
BASE Maranello, Italy CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIPS 16 2017 CONSTRUCTORS FINISH 2nd ENGINE Ferrari
SEBASTIAN VETTEL FROM Germany AGE 30 DEBUT 2007 United States Grand Prix RACES 199 VICTORIES 47 POLE POSITIONS 50 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 2nd
KIMI RAIKKONEN FROM Finland AGE 38 DEBUT 2001 Australian Grand Prix RACES 273 VICTORIES 20 POLE POSITIONS 17 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 4th
BASE Milton Keynes, England CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIPS 4 2017 CONSTRUCTORS FINISH 3rd ENGINE Renault
MAX VERSTAPPEN FROM Netherlands AGE 20 DEBUT 2015 Australian Grand Prix RACES 60 VICTORIES 3 POLE POSITIONS 0 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 6th
DANIEL RICCIARDO FROM Australia AGE 28 DEBUT 2011 British Grand Prix RACES 129 VICTORIES 5 POLE POSITIONS 1 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 5th
BASE Silverstone, England CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIPS 0 2017 CONSTRUCTORS FINISH 4th ENGINE Mercedes
SERGIO PEREZ FROM Mexico AGE 28 DEBUT 2011 Australian Grand Prix RACES 136 VICTORIES 0 POLE POSITIONS 0 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 7th
ESTEBAN OCON FROM France AGE 21 DEBUT 2016 Belgian Grand Prix RACES 29 VICTORIES 0 POLE POSITIONS 0 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 8th
BASE Grove, England CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIPS 9 2017 CONSTRUCTORS FINISH 5th ENGINE Mercedes
LANCE STROLL FROM Canada AGE 19 DEBUT 2017 Australian Grand Prix RACES 20 VICTORIES 0 POLE POSITIONS 0 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 12th
SERGEY SIROTKIN FROM Russia AGE 22 First season
BASE Enstone, England CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIPS 2 2017 CONSTRUCTORS FINISH 6th ENGINE Renault
CARLOS SAINZ JR. FROM Spain AGE 23 DEBUT 2015 Australian Grand Prix RACES 60 VICTORIES 0 POLE POSITIONS 0 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 9th
NICO HULKENBERG FROM Germany AGE 30 DEBUT 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix RACES 137 VICTORIES 0 POLE POSITIONS 1 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 10th
BASE Faenza, Italy CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIPS 0 2017 CONSTRUCTORS FINISH 7th ENGINE Honda
PIERRE GASLY FROM France AGE 22 DEBUT 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix RACES 5 VICTORIES 0 POLE POSITIONS 0 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 21st
BRENDON HARTLEY FROM New Zealand AGE 28 DEBUT 2017 United States Grand Prix RACES 4 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 23rd
BASE Kannapolis, N.C. CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIPS 0 2017 CONSTRUCTORS FINISH 8th ENGINE Ferrari
ROMAIN GROSJEAN FROM France AGE 31 DEBUT 2009 European Grand Prix RACES 124 VICTORIES 0 POLE POSITIONS 0 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 13th
KEVIN MAGNUSSEN FROM Denmark AGE 25 DEBUT 2014 Australian Grand Prix RACES 61 VICTORIES 0 POLE POSITIONS 0 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 14th
BASE Woking, England CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIPS 8 2017 CONSTRUCTORS FINISH 9th ENGINE Renault
FERNANDO ALONSO FROM Spain AGE 36 DEBUT 2001 Australian Grand Prix RACES 293 VICTORIES 32 POLE POSITIONS 22 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 15th
STOFFEL VANDOORNE FROM Belgium AGE 25 DEBUT 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix RACES 21 VICTORIES 0 POLE POSITIONS 0 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 16th
BASE Hinwil, Switzerland CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIPS 0 2017 CONSTRUCTORS FINISH 10th ENGINE Ferrari
MARCUS ERICSSON FROM Sweden AGE 27 DEBUT 2014 Australian Grand Prix RACES 76 VICTORIES 0 POLE POSITIONS 0 2017 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP 20th
CHARLES LECLERC FROM France AGE 20 First season
FILE - In this Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017 file photo Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany waves to supporters after the Emirates Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Ferrari has paid special attention to aerodynamics for its new Formula One car, the SF71H model presented in Maranello, Italy, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 in an attempt to keep up with rival Mercedes on high-speed circuits. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, file)
Sports on 03/18/2018
Print Headline: Hamilton, Vettel aim to match Fangio with 5th title