Defending Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has praised the 'phenomenal' progress made by his McLaren-Mercedes team since the beginning of the 2009 campaign when they languished almost three seconds away from the leading pace - but he does not foresee a major step forward in Barcelona this weekend.

Arriving Down Under for the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne back in late March, Hamilton and McLaren received a nasty shock when they found themselves battling for the mid-to-lower grid positions - and they received an even nastier one when they were hauled up before the FIA's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) charged with bringing the sport into disrepute over the now infamous Albert Park 'lies' scandal.

The way the Woking-based outfit has responded to both crises, though, has been impressive indeed, and the hallmark of a true championship-winning squad. Hamilton now sits seventh in the drivers' title chase - the highest-placed of any of the expected 'leading' contenders - with nine points on the board and even fought for the podium last time out in Bahrain, something that would have been nigh-on unthinkable as little as five weeks ago.

"When we tested here (Barcelona), I think the team kind of felt that perhaps we would not be so bad," the 24-year-old related, "but when we arrived (in Australia) we were between two-and-a-half and three seconds slower than the leading cars, so that was a big shock to the system.

"The team have pushed incredibly, just an incredible amount from then on. The progress that we have seen in our performance from the second day we did here until now has been phenomenal. I think the team have done a great job and to see the results that we are getting - fourth in the last race - was a product of that.

"I think what's been impressive is that the team has not been affected by (the Melbourne 'lies' controversy). They've been pushing since the test we had here and fortunately, through past experiences, they have been very, very strong all together and just kept focussed on their primary goal. For sure, [the lack of penalty] is a weight off the team's shoulders, and the guys back at the factory can focus more on getting the car back to the front, so it can only be good for them.

"I think I just need to get on with my job and keep being me - remain humble, just try to continue to do a good job and I hope that over the course of time people will get to know exactly who I am and understand that I am in actual fact a good person. I do what I do because I love it."

The nine-time grand prix-winner is due to be honoured at the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend with the unveiling of a special plaque - what he described as 'fantastic' and a 'a great privilege' - but as to the chances of an immediate jump up the pecking order in the Spanish Grand Prix, he was more circumspect, confident that further improvements have been made since Bahrain a fortnight ago, but equally reflecting former team-mate Fernando Alonso's assertion that every team will have done the same.

"Who knows?" he mused. "We will have to wait and see. I guess this weekend is a good indication of whether that is the case or not. We have a couple of things put on the car, but we don't have a lot of things going on the car that are radical steps for us. It is just bit-by-bit that we are adding bits to the car.

"This weekend it will be interesting to see how far everyone else has stepped forward, and the difficult thing is that whilst we progress everyone else progresses at more-or-less the same pace. The key for us is to try and progress a bit faster than them, but with the way the world is, with the economy and everything, it is not the easiest to do that - it is tough times.

"There's the team, the car and the driver and the way the team works and operates. They are all equally important and if you don't have one of those then you won't be competitive [or] at the front. You'll see some cars that have more performance than others and some people perhaps won't do such a good job with them.

"I think there's [still] quite a lot of emphasis on the driver. We have a lot of tools that we need to deal with in the car and no one in the world can understand what it's like driving the car and what different pressures we're being subjected to [doing it], but that's because you're not driving. There's only 20 of us that have the great privilege of driving them and I still feel it's pretty tough driving these things.

"I think everyone this weekend will have made a step forward, so probably the positions will be pretty much the same as before. We are coming from a long way behind, but we've only had four races. There are 13 races left, so for sure there is still a long, long way for us to go."