Reigning F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton has admitted that he is looking forward to next weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, despite acknowledging that he does not expect McLaren to be in a position to break back into the winners' circle just yet.

Speaking after a tough start to his title defence - on track and off - the Briton remained optimistic of being able to add to his paltry nine-point haul from the opening four grands prix of the 2009 campaign, particularly as McLaren continued to work on developments to the MP4-24 design left behind by its rivals' reading of the revised F1 rulebook, but confessed that the car was not yet a challenger for the likes of Red Bull and Brawn.

"After such a positive performance in Bahrain, we're fully aware that the characteristics of the Barcelona track won't suit our car so well," admitted Hamilton, who finished third in last year's Barcelona event. "However, the schedule for the first four races was very tough for everyone, so going back to Europe almost feels like a fresh start."

Having been stripped of fourth place in the Australian Grand Prix for McLaren's part in the 'liegate' furore, Hamilton has scored in each of the following three rounds but, with a best result of fourth place only coming last time out in Bahrain, he currently lies 22 points adrift of countryman Jenson Button in the drivers' championship. McLaren, likewise, trails surprise pacesetter Brawn by 37 points in the constructors' standings, but continues to work on elements of the MP4-24 package that it hopes will bridge the gap as racing heads to Europe for the summer.

"The engineers are optimistic that our new diffuser and front wing will once again help us to make progress towards the front of the grid, but we won't have the bigger upgrades of some of the other teams, as we already introduced several new parts during the opening 'flyaways'," Hamilton added. "It will be interesting to see where we sit in the order.

"In Bahrain it was just so hard to keep up with the guys ahead. The Red Bull of [Sebastian] Vettel was so fast, and the Toyotas and Brawns are so fast in the fast corners that it was just impossible for me.

"We've just got to do a lot more work and keep pushing, but bit-by-bit I'm learning more, and I think I'm able to give the team a bit more direction to improve. Throughout the race when you're behind people, you learn a lot."

Having overcome perhaps a bigger battle - that to remain on the grid in the face of Wednesday's World Motor Sport Council hearing into 'liegate' - new team principal Martin Whitmarsh shares Hamilton's reluctance to make big predictions for Barcelona, accepting that McLaren's development policy may mitigate against any major advance in the next couple of rounds.

"Our decision to introduce performance updates at each race, rather than concentrate all our developments into a single upgrade package, has helped us score some reasonable points in the opening flyaway races but, with our rivals expected to introduce some more substantial improvements in Barcelona this weekend, we once again expect a fight to score points," he reasoned.

"However, while the high-downforce nature of the Circuit de Catalunya may show up some of MP4-24's shortcomings, everyone within the team remains confident and motivated that we can sustain the momentum we have gathered to push and close the gap to the front this weekend."