As he bids to reclaim the hard-fought drivers' crown that was his two years ago, former world champion Lewis Hamilton has revealed that he has never derived so much enjoyment from driving an F1 car as he does out of this season's McLaren-Mercedes MP4-25.

Last year, of course, Hamilton began the defence of his title with what was by common consent one of the worst-born McLarens in the team's long and esteemed history in the top flight - a car that was from its very first laps some three seconds shy of the leading pace as it suffered woefully on the aerodynamics front compared to its chief rivals.

Brief highlights aside, the MP4-25 delivered the British star a mere nine points from the opening nine grands prix of the campaign - and in so doing thoroughly dashed Hamilton's hopes of making it back-to-back world championship glories. Its successor, the Stevenage-born ace opines, is an altogether different animal.

"I love driving this year's car!" enthused the 25-year-old, speaking to his personal website. "I said to my engineers in Malaysia that I'd never had a car that felt as solid and as planted as the MP4-25; it feels like a car that you can not only find a perfect balance with, but you can also really push it, and it reacts well to the changes on full-tanks or when it's empty.

"That has meant I've really been able to push to the limit, which is how I love to drive. I don't think I've ever enjoyed driving a Formula 1 car more than I have with this year's car. Of course, it hasn't been perfect - nothing is - but I'm very pleased, I think I'm driving as well as I ever have and I feel extremely confident for the races ahead."

Speeding towards the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai next weekend, the eleven-time grand prix-winner currently sits sixth in the drivers' standings, albeit only eight points adrift of leader Felipe Massa, with none of the front-runners having enjoyed a flawless start to the season or been able to make an early break.

That has left the battle finely-poised for the remainder of the campaign, with ostensibly as many as eight competitors looking to be potential contenders for the ultimate laurels. With McLaren still well in touch despite having unnecessarily thrown away points in Australia and Malaysia through poor strategic decisions and despite not benefitting from the fastest car in the field, Hamilton is in optimistic mood for what lies ahead, confident in the Woking-based outfit's ability to out-develop its adversaries and end proceedings on top.

"I think the championship order is quite encouraging for us," he mused, "particularly given the situation we were in last year. I think all the teams have perhaps missed some good opportunities - but that's one of those things that can happen when the front of the grid is very close and you're all pushing to gain the maximum advantage.

"I came away from the first three races this year knowing that very little was lost and everything is still to play for. Given where we were last year, that's a major positive for us. Could we have scored more points? Almost certainly, but we were reliable when it mattered and we've shown we have the pace to fight at the front. That's what I take home from the opening 'flyaways'.

"We saw in Sepang that the car was extremely quick, even if we couldn't do enough in qualifying to get ourselves up the front. In fact, I think our car has always been quick this season; we didn't get the job done properly in qualifying in Bahrain, but we've been quick in all the races.

"We made a step forward in Malaysia - we actually brought forward the new parts we had planned for China. We've got a few more new parts for China - nothing major, but it should hopefully help us close the gap. This is something that McLaren-Mercedes is fantastic at doing. Last year, we did an absolutely incredible job to claw back three seconds to the front-runners, and turn a car that was at the back of the grid at the start of the season into a race-winning car by the middle of the year. I honestly don't think there's a better team for developing a car during the season.

"Obviously we can't test as much now, but we run a very disciplined programme on the Friday of each race to make sure the new parts are delivering the level of performance we anticipated. I think we learned a lot of lessons about how to work in the field when we were battling back in 2009, and I'm very confident that we'll be able to do the same thing this year.

"As I've always said, the outcome of the world championship could be decided by the speed of development among the top teams - and I know our team do an absolutely fantastic job in this department. That's down to all the men and women at the factory - they're people you never see on the TV, but they are so motivated and so committed and they do a fantastic job, and I hope they can see that Jenson [Button - team-mate] and I push for every last hundredth when we're out on-track to show everyone that their work does make a difference."

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