Millennium Post

‘We aren’t ready for our rivals’

Despite a surprisingly strong finish at the Australia Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton thinks his new team Mercedes isn’t ready to challenge rivals Red Bull and Ferrari for the overall Formula One title.

Hamilton said that his fifth-place finish in Melbourne was ‘a good step for us’ considering the team was at times two seconds behind the leaders a year ago. And the 2008 champion said he expects further progress at this week’s Malaysian Grand Prix, where the team hopes to have sorted out the under steering problems that plagued Hamilton in Melbourne.

‘We are not title contenders at the moment,’ said Hamilton, who switched from McLaren to join a team which finished a distant fifth in the constructors’ championship last year.

‘We are not at the forefront of the pack, leading and showing blistering times,’ he said. ‘We were competitive in testing but generally that is because we were on lighter fuel at some stages than other people. We can’t take too much from testing.’

Team Principal Ross Brawn agreed, noting the team ‘underperformed’ in Melbourne and struggled to get the balance of the car right. It was further hurt when Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg retired on the 27th lap due to an electrical failure.

‘It’s our view we have a gap to close and we are working on closing the gap,’ he said.

Such a prognosis may have once depressed the 28-year-old Hamilton, who won one F1 title with McLaren but increasingly expressed his frustration with the team after having several races ruined by mechanical problems or crew mistakes.

But Hamilton strikes a more patient tone these days, saying Mercedes’ goal of competing at the top has to be viewed in terms of years rather than months.

‘Definitely in the past, I wanted to rush to things,’ he said. ‘I’m in a much better position now and I realize that I’m on a new team that has struggled in the past. I know where we stand and where we have to grow from. I do also appreciate that it could take a long time before we get that championship.’

The controversies, along with his rock star persona - have helped make Hamilton one of the sport’s most polarizing figures, an impression he doesn’t dispute but one he wants to change this season.

He says he ‘is in the happiest place I have ever been’ and credits his new attitude with the shift to Mercedes.

‘Some places you have to fit a certain shape. I had to be a certain way,’ Hamilton said. ‘Here, I can be more myself. Ross (Brawn) was looking at my tattoos the other day and was like `I like them.’ I was like, wow, I’ve never had that before.’    
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