McLaren `there or thereabouts` says happy Hamilton

Melbourne: McLaren`s Lewis Hamilton fought hard to avoid giving any hostages to fortune on Thursday but was clearly more bullish about his chances of challenging for the Formula One world title this year than last.

Coming off the hardest year of his career, the 2008 world champion repeatedly said it was too early to tell how quick his new MP4-27 car would be compared to his rivals during Sunday`s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

"I`m not expecting anything," he told reporters at Albert Park.

"I think it would silly to have any expectation, 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 that we`re not the quickest."

"I`m really not sure where we are but I think we`re there or thereabouts."

Despite winning three races last year, Hamilton had a controversial and disappointing season - his unhappiness compounded by the fallout from the split with his father Anthony and then his popstar girlfriend.

"I`m just happy to be here," he said on Thursday. "I still feel quite privileged to be here in Formula One."

"I`m 27 years old, it`s my sixth year in Formula One but I`m still one of the few people in the world that gets to do this job.

"I`m constantly having to pinch myself that I`m still here, still living my dream, so I`m very happy and in a good place."

Watching Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull run away with the titles last season can only have added to Hamilton`s frustrations and on Thursday he said he was hoping that his driving talent would enable him to make a difference this year.

"My recollection is that at all the circuits last year, one car and one driver were dominant because that car was just phenomenal," he said.

"If the cars are closer than last year, then the driver should be able to make a difference.

"The best driver should be able to extract that little bit more but it`s difficult to know how much that bit is."

As far as his equipment was concerned, Hamilton said the loss of the downforce caused by a ban on exhaust-blown diffusers had been made up for by other improvements in his car, leaving him with pretty much the same base level on that score.

"I think we`ve improved the foundation of the car so it should mean that we`ve got a better car than last season," he said.

Hamilton started last year with a second place in Australia, albeit 22 seconds behind Vettel, but finished fifth in the championship.

This season, he said he would be more focused on producing the goods across the season rather than making a rip-roaring start.

"It`s not as important as you probably think," he said. "It`s obviously important to have consistency throughout the season. I had a good start last year and it didn`t really add up to much."

Bureau Report

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