He may have ultimately inherited a podium position in the 2009 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne at the weekend – following Jarno Trulli's controversial post-race penalty – but Lewis Hamilton has warned his and McLaren-Mercedes' fans that he expects to be 'further from the front-runners' in the forthcoming Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang.
Having started the race from 18th Down Under, a combination of some aggressive early overtaking moves, good fortune and a determination never to say die enabled the reigning Formula 1 World Champion to fight his way up the order into what would subsequently become the final place on the rostrum – even if he did not get the pleasure of standing on it. It was nonetheless, he acknowledged, a superb result under the circumstances.
“We did the best job we could,” the 24-year-old underlined. “I think it was an incredible job done by the team throughout the whole weekend. They've all kept their spirits up, even though we're off the pace. We stick together and we keep our heads up and keep going – I think that just shows the true spirit of the team, so I'm very, very proud and I'm very happy with those points, definitely.
“Since we've come here we've not really improved the car as such; we've made some set-up changes, but the car is what it is at the moment. We've got a lot of work going on back at the factory, so hopefully step-by-step we'll continue to score points and catch people up.”
Indeed, the MP4-24 has struggled for pace since birth, but if Hamilton and team-mate Heikki Kovalainen's qualifying positions around Albert Park were much as could have been expected, the British star's race day charge seemed to suggest that all hope is not yet lost for the remainder of the campaign – even if he has little confidence of a similar result in Malaysia in six days' time.
“We shouldn't get carried away by our podium in Australia,” the nine-time grand prix-winner insisted. “Yes, we had a fantastic race, but we're all aware that our car isn't capable of repeating that sort of performance on sheer pace alone. Sepang is one of the tougher tracks on the calendar, one where we will probably be further from the front-runners than we were in Albert Park.
“The track is both fast and technical, so requires good mechanical and aero grip. It's much more aero-dependent and rear-limited than Melbourne so it may highlight some of the shortcomings of the MP4-24. Nevertheless, we're all really encouraged by the progress we've made and I know we'll be pushing as hard as ever to put more points on the board in Sepang.”
Those thoughts were broadly corroborated by both McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh and Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. The Woking-based outfit has triumphed twice in Malaysia compared to Ferrari's five successes in the Far Eastern country, but it does not anticipate even coming close to adding to that tally in the 2009 edition.
“Lewis did a great job in the circumstances and so did the team,” Whitmarsh acknowledged of McLaren's Melbourne performance. “It was a solid result and a great team effort with a car that's not really quick enough and didn't deserve to win those points – though obviously it relied on a bit on attrition.