Hamilton: We're there or thereabouts
McLaren star reckons they have as good a chance as anyone
By Mike Wise in Melbourne. Last Updated: 15/03/12 12:26pm
Lewis Hamilton is confident that he and McLaren have as good chance as anyone of winning the Australian Grand Prix this weekend.
Speaking at Albert Park on Thursday, Hamilton reckoned McLaren are "there or thereabouts" after a successful period of testing the MP4-27.
Much like Red Bull, McLaren did not attempt a qualifying run pre-season - something Hamilton said he was very much looking forward to doing during qualifying on Saturday.
"Definitely, in warmer temperatures as well," he said. "Although I've tested the newer tyres, I've not been on lower, lower fuel. And so to see how we compare to others is going to be interesting."
Even so, the 2008 World Champion played down his chances of securing pole position.
"I really don't know," he responded. "In the data on long runs, I think we're in the top three or four in terms of our long-run pace and our degradation. Again, I've not been on low fuel so I don't know really how we compare to others. We'll find out probably on the Saturday.
"It would be silly to have any expectation and it would be silly to say 'We are definitely going to be on the front row' because we might find out in the next couple of days we're not the quickest.
"I'm not sure but I think we're there or thereabouts."
As McLaren seek to match the pace of reigning World Champions Red Bull, Hamilton said he thought they had responded well to the ban on blown diffusers which has reduced grip at the rear of the car.
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"I'd love to have some of that downforce I had last year from the exhausts and the engine but they've found it elsewhere," he said.
"I always compare our car to the other guys when you take the exhausts off. So last year we took our exhausts off and Red Bull took their exhausts off (exhaust blown diffusers were temporarily banned at the British Grand Prix) and we were quite a chunk behind. But when we had our exhaust on, we were quite close.
"But now, without the exhausts, we've improved the foundation of the car - which should mean we have a better car for this season."
Even with the ban on blown diffusers, Hamilton said that Pirelli's new tyres went some way to making up for the lost grip.
"The tyres have been improved this year, so we have a little bit more grip from the tyres," he added. "What we've lost from the downforce side we've picked up a little bit more from the tyres. I don't think we're a long way from where we were last year with the whole downforce package."
Meanwhile, speaking to Sky Sports News in the paddock on Thursday, Hamilton also expressed optimism that he was ready to enjoy a more successful year in 2012 on the back of a succession of well-documented on and off track problems last time round.
"It's a combination of a lot of things, but I feel pretty good and I hope that reflects in the results and my performances," he said.
"Last year there were times when I felt good and it didn't go so well, so you never really know how it's going to go.
"But I hope the car is strong enough, and I hope I'm strong enough, when it comes to getting the job done."