Lewis Hamilton has sought to play down notions that McLaren-Mercedes is the strongest team heading into the F1 2010 World Championship, whilst acknowledging that he will be 'going for it' in the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix and that his MP4-25 feels 'light years ahead' of its unloved and uncompetitive MP4-24 predecessor at the same stage last year.

Hamilton went into the 2009 campaign as the reigning F1 World Champion, but without so much as a hope of successfully defending his hard-fought drivers' crown, with a car that was so aerodynamically poor as to leave it a staggering three seconds shy of the leading pace during the early outings.

Whilst the Woking-based outfit produced inarguably the turnaround of the year to transform the MP4-24 into a race-winning machine come the second half, by then the damage had been done - and Hamilton knows that if he is to launch a concerted assault on the laurels in 2010, he will need to be in the hunt right from the word 'go', particularly with as many as four teams and by extension therefore eight drivers looking to be possible contenders for title glory.

Though he dismisses Michael Schumacher's claim that McLaren is the benchmark heading towards Sakhir in just under a fortnight's time [see separate story - click here], the sport's youngest-ever world champion does acknowledge that he is satisfied with the way pre-season testing and preparations have gone after leading the way on the final day in Barcelona on Sunday - and reveals that he is ready now to demonstrate his mettle under the desert sun.

"I don't think we're in the strongest position," the 25-year-old told Crash.net Radio, during a special Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes phone-in session. "I think we are in a strong position, just as the others are, but it really is impossible to say who is the fastest.

"You don't know what fuel loads everyone was on; we were on decent fuel loads all day on Sunday, which left us feeling quite comfortable in our pace that day - but without doubt we have to keep pushing, because I'm sure other people will come with updates for the first race. We're pushing as hard as we can to find some more time."

"I am a more positive kind of guy," the eleven-time grand prix-winner added according to The Sun, when it was put to him that Schumacher has already written off his own hopes of challenging for victory in Bahrain. "There are some seriously quick teams out there, but I am going for it! I cannot wait for the first race!

"I am much happier than I was this time last year. The car does feel light years ahead of how it was last year, when we were way off the pace. We are in a much stronger position, but we have still got work to do."

TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

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