Lewis Hamilton professed himself 'excited' about what lies ahead during the F1 2011 World Championship campaign after finishing as runner-up to defending world champion Sebastian Vettel in today's curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, asserting that the vastly-improved McLaren-Mercedes MP4-26 is henceforth 'going to work on every circuit we go to' and that consequently, 'the only way is up'.

Just a fortnight ago, you would have received pretty long odds on either Hamilton or team-mate Jenson Button scoring decent points Down Under, let alone reaching the podium - but such has been the progress made by the 'dramatic changes' brought to their hitherto uncompetitive car since the final pre-season group test in Barcelona earlier this month, that not only did the 2008 F1 World Champion ascend the rostrum following 58 laps of the Albert Park Street Circuit, he contends he could even have fought for the top step of it.

As it was, damage to the undertray of his car - likely caused by a minor off-piste excursion - necessitated a slight slackening of the pace, but still, Hamilton was in ebullient mood post-race, and talking up his and McLaren's chances of victory in two weeks' time in Malaysia.

"Second position is a great result," the 26-year-old enthused. "The car felt fantastic, really nice to drive, and I was able to look after my tyres throughout the race. To be able to apply pressure to Vettel already, so early on in the year and after really only a week-and-a-half of having this upgrade, was massively encouraging, too. I think we were competitive enough today to compete for the win. If it hadn't been for the poor start, we could have been in the fight, so I think we should be excited.

"I don't really know what happened with the floor; it looks pretty badly-damaged, but it didn't feel too bad to drive so it wasn't as bad as it probably looked. I'm just glad I was able to bring the car home - in the end, I was just trying to nurse it - but I think it's a really great result and the guys back at the factory can really be quite chuffed with that.

"They are always under an immense amount of pressure to build components and design new things and bring upgrades as many times as possible. This one was a seriously tall order from the boss, but as professionals, they handled it with great care and the package here looked great on the car and it handled fantastically.

"I'm so pleased and I'm so thankful for all the effort that the guys have put in, and I really can't wait to see what else they can bring over the next couple of weeks! I hope they keep on pushing - I know they will - and hopefully in the next race, we'll be able to challenge the Red Bulls even more.

"Physically, this was one of the easiest races I've ever had. I came here feeling fitter than ever, so I'm looking forward to going to Malaysia, which is probably the toughest race of the year, hopefully with an even better car.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what additional performance we can bring to the next race. The engineers know exactly where there's more performance to be gained, and we're going to just try to soak it up like a sponge and put it on the car as soon as we can. I know the car is going to work on every circuit we go to from now on, and I know that the only way is up with this package. I think we can challenge for the win at Sepang."

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh shared his driver's optimism for the grands prix to come, and insisted he was not worried that the distinctly-worn plank on Hamilton's MP4-26 might failing post-race scrutineering since there has been 'plenty of precedent of damaged cars' in F1.

"It's a healthy result, although inevitably, you're always going to be disappointed if you haven't won the race!" mused the Englishman. "Lewis did a great job; his pace was not quite Sebastian's, but not too far behind. Early on, Lewis was more-or-less able to stay in touch with Sebastian, but once his car's undertray had been damaged, he was no longer able to keep the leading Red Bull in sight. You could see from that point on that he was losing a lot of downforce, so it was just a question of conserving the car, staying off the kerbs and looking after it.

"He drove a great race in difficult circumstances to finish second today, and overall, when you consider where we were a few weeks ago, you'd have to say that for us to come away from Australia with 26 world championship points is a pretty decent outcome. More importantly, though, it means that we've got a very promising platform from which to develop our car and compete for world championship honours this season. Roll on Malaysia!"



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