Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton chat during a news conference ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Picture: Luca Bruno / AP

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - The 2017 Formula One season is not yet done and dusted but Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, the protagonists in the world title battle, are already looking ahead to next year.

Vettel said on Friday: "The step we've done this year has been incredible; if we can do a similar step for next year then it should be a walk in the park. That final step is always the hardest but the team is ready. We have some good things in the pipeline."

Vettel produced his most credible title challenge in three seasons with Ferrari, which is trying to end a drought in the Drivers' championship dating to Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. But despite holding an advantage going into the summer break, mistakes, car problems and the brilliance of Hamilton in his Mercedes saw Vettel fall short of adding a fifth title to the four claimed with previous team Red Bull.

Hamilton won his own fourth title with two races to spare and the pair are each one behind legendary Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio on five.

"I feel very honoured to be this close to a great sporting icon in Juan Manuel Fangio," said Hamilton. "He's kind of the godfather of the sport.  It was great to have those close battles this year with Sebastian, a four-time world champion you respect."

Relaxed

The respect between the pair was tested to the limit at times in the campaign, no more so than in Baku when Vettel deliberately drove into Hamilton having believed the Mercedes driver had 'brake-tested' him under a safety car. Nevertheless the two, appearing beside each other in front of the media, seeemed relaxed in each other's company.

"Lewis, you didn't have to pass many people this year?" Vettel said when asked about their favourite overtake of the season.

"Well, I passed you a few times," Hamilton quickly replied to smiles all round.

"No one is perfect," Hamilton said. "Even I have things to work on. I expect Sebastian to raise the bar again next year. Ferrari had a great season."

Hamilton has 62 races victories to his name, second only to record seven-time champion Michael Schumacher and, even with little at stake, he is eager to make it 63 on Sunday.

"I'm extremely driven this weekend to finish the season off as strongly as I can," he said. "Sebastian won the last race in Brazil, but I don't want to give him this one."