After topping the timesheets at the end of the opening day of practice ahead of the 2010 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, former F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton professed himself 'confident' of taking the fight to the early-season pace-setters this weekend with a car that 'probably feels better than I've ever had at this track'.
Having lapped almost a second shy of the outright pace in FP1, Hamilton improved by six spots to move to the top of the order in the afternoon session around Albert Park – and having grittily snatched a podium position that was more the result of driver than machine in the Bahrain curtain-raiser a fortnight ago, the eleven-time grand prix-winner opined that this time he hopefully won't have to work quite so hard on Sunday afternoon, and might even be able to challenge the Red Bulls and the Ferraris into the bargain.
“It's great to be back in Melbourne,” enthused the 25-year-old. “I love this place! The track was very dirty this morning – everybody usually waits for some of the cars to clean the line, but I just wanted to get out there and have some fun! I definitely think we've made some improvements to our pace compared with Bahrain, and the feeling over one lap is better for us too. That's what we've been trying to work on since the first race, and I feel more confident that, going into qualifying, we'll be able to attack the guys who were at the front two weeks ago.
“Despite this afternoon's wet weather, we went out early in the second session when it was still dry and got some good running under our belts in order to see how some of the changes we'd made between the sessions felt. We're feeling positive. We'd hoped to evaluate some further changes at the end of FP2, but the track still wasn't up to full speed. Nevertheless, we feel quite comfortable with the balance of the car. I actually feel very relaxed; I've got a car that probably feels better than I've ever had at this track, so that's a major positive.”
Hamilton was ably backed up in second place in FP2 by team-mate, compatriot and title-winning successor Jenson Button – a man who has vocally acknowledged the need for both himself and McLaren-Mercedes as a team to qualify significantly better than they did in Sakhir, given the premium on overtaking that the refueling ban seems to have placed on F1 2010 [see separate story – click here
Whilst not necessarily expecting to similarly annex a front row grid slot on Saturday afternoon Down Under, the defending world champion and race-winner is clearly optimistic of doing rather better than the lowly eighth position he managed in the baking heat of Bahrain.
“I'm reasonably pleased with the balance, and it's just got better throughout the day,” affirmed the Frome-born ace. “I've been happy since lap one this morning. It's only Friday, and we may be lighter than some of the [other] quick cars out there, but tomorrow we'll see where we actually stand. Nevertheless, it's important for us to find a good balance and get a good feeling with the car.
“We've just been trying to continually tweak the balance of the car, but it's been tough because of the conditions and the traffic out on the circuit. Every time I've tried to put a good lap in on a new set of tyres, I've hit traffic – but we'll make the best of it for tomorrow. For qualifying, the car should feel better than it did in Bahrain; it feels like we have the correct downforce level for this circuit. Both tyre compounds are working well too, so it's all positive.”
“All the teams would probably have had an easier time of it if today's sessions had been completely dry,” concluded the Woking-based outfit's team principal Martin Whitmarsh, “because the rain made things rather challenging in terms of optimising learning potential. That being the case, we chose not to go out in the rain, to conserve tyres. Instead, we did heavy fuel runs to gauge tyre wear, plus a little light running too.
“We're not about to get carried away by Jenson and Lewis' positions on today's timesheet, although of course it's always gratifying to see your two drivers finish first and second on any day in any conditions. Having said that, we're pretty confident that we'll be more competitive here in Australia than we were in Bahrain.”