Lewis Hamilton insists he will be working hard with his McLaren-Mercedes team to try and move back to the front of the Formula One pack after a difficult pre-season for the team with its new MP4-24.

The new car has proved to be lacking in pace during the winter, with Hamilton and team-mate Heikki Kovalainen finding themselves languishing towards the bottom of the timesheets on more than one occasion during the various tests carried out through the off-season.

While the performance of the car this past week at Jerez was more encouraging, defending champion Hamilton goes into the opening round of the season as something of an outsider amongst the expected challengers for victory but he admitted he was looking forward to the first race of the year and was keen to work hard to help the team improve its performance.

"Despite weeks of winter testing, it's still difficult to know exactly who has the best package, and finding out over the weekend in Albert Park is always fascinating," he said. "Perhaps Vodafone McLaren Mercedes doesn't come to Melbourne with the same prospects to challenge at the front that we experienced in both 2007 and '08, but the whole team will be working tirelessly to help us move back to the front.

"There is no better place to begin the FIA Formula 1 World Championship than in Australia. The weather is fantastic, the facilities are excellent and the people of Melbourne make us all feel extremely welcome. Most importantly, everyone arrives with an air of enthusiasm and expectation."

Team-mate Kovalainen said he was also looking forward to the season-opener although, like Hamilton, he admitted there was plenty of work to be done.

"I had a great race in Melbourne last year on my debut for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes," he said. "It's a track I love - a circuit that you really have to attack with a lot of enthusiasm if you are to get the best from the car. The fast esses at the back of the circuit are probably the most demanding corners - getting it just right is a hugely satisfying feeling. Elsewhere, I enjoy the 'back to school' feeling of the new season - you meet up with everybody, share your stories from the winter and look forward to another good season.

"Everybody in our team is really motivated and, while we probably won't start the season as favourites, we will work around the clock to get back there."