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'We'll close the gap, I have no doubts' - Hamilton

ESPNF1 Staff
March 28, 2011 « Red Bull to run KERS in Malaysia | »
Lewis Hamilton: 'This is a great position, a great platform, for us to push on into the next races' © Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton is confident McLaren will close the gap to Red Bull this season, after he surprised much of the paddock by being Sebastian Vettel's closest competitor at the opening round in Australia.

His McLaren was off the pace throughout pre-season and the team came to the first round fearing it would be well over a second off the pace. However, Hamilton qualified second on the grid - 0.7 seconds off Vettel - and then matched the Red Bull for race pace in the opening stages of the race before damage to his undertray slowed him down.

After the race it emerged Red Bull had not been running KERS all weekend - costing its drivers approximately 0.3 seconds in lap time - but even with that in mind Hamilton is confident about being closer in the upcoming rounds.

"I feel really privileged to be up here because we thought it was going to be quite a bad weekend and I'm back up here, back in the fight, only a few points behind the guy in front who has a much, much faster car," he said. "But we'll close that gap, I have no doubts about that, and clearly showing from today, after our first stint, we can compete with them in the race, so get ourselves up at the front and we can give them some pressure.

"This is a great position, a great platform, for us to push on into the next races. We have upgrades coming and we have a better understanding of the car and a better understanding of the tyres and strategy."

He said the most impressive thing for him had been the jump in performance McLaren had made in the two weeks since the final pre-season test in Barcelona.

"[Red Bull] have had the fastest car since towards the end of 2009, and they continue to have the fastest car, but to turn it over to what we've done, coming from a car which was probably going to arrive here probably two seconds off the pace to being maybe a second off in qualifying, if they had KERS, and race pace being very, very similar, I think that's probably the most impressive part for me. I think it's very rare that you see such a big leap in performance in Formula One."

Before the floor on Hamilton's car broke, which he said caused the car to oversteer in high-speed corners and lock up under braking, he was gaining on Vettel and also arrived in the pits for the first stop with his tyres in a better condition. He suggested that the early laps were a fairer representation of the gap between McLaren and Red Bull than the 22 second deficit at the end of the race.

"I think today our pace was very, very good," he said. "Everyone always says that I have a very aggressive driving style but today I proved that is not the case. I looked after my tyres even better than the guy next to me [Vettel] and I think I was able to attack. I could have gone for many more laps in the first stint.

"The only reason I had to pit is really because you have to try... you know, nowadays, stopping before them is always the best but if they have stopped before you, you need to stop immediately afterwards to defend and keep your position. The tyres were handling fantastic today and the tyres were great. The guys did a great job in the pit-stops."