Defending F1 champ well off the pace Down Under

  • By Chris Lines Associated Press
  • Friday, March 27, 2009 12:30pm
  • SportsSports

MELBOURNE, Australia — Lewis Hamilton warned fans not to expect much from McLaren at the Formula One season-opening Australian Grand Prix, and after Friday’s practice performance they will need no more convincing.

Hamilton finished 16th out of 20 drivers in the opening practice, and then it got even worse as he slumped to 18th after the second session, above only rookie Sebastien Buemi and the struggling Nelson Piquet Jr.

The poor showing confirmed the worst fears from offseason testing that the McLaren car was well off the pace of its rivals.

The car was quick on the straights at Melbourne, but had to slow considerable around the corners due to a lack of downforce.

“In general its a good car, just a general lack of grip everywhere,” Hamilton said. “It’s not in one area, it’s everywhere. We can’t carry speed through the corners as much as we would like.”

The reigning world champion was backing his team to fight its way into contention as the season progresses, saying there were already signs it was bridging the gap that existed in preseason testing.

“The gap to the others is nowhere near as big as it was in Barcelona,” Hamilton said. “We are not in the place we would like to be, but we are working extremely hard, as hard as we can.

“We have a tough championship ahead of us. If anyone can do it I believe my team can, so we need to remain positive and keep pushing.”

Hamilton has never been in this predicament in F1 before, having been vaulted into the coveted McLaren seat rather than working his way up through lesser teams.

For a driver who at times has been accused of a lack of patience when racing rivals, it remains to be seen how he will cope with running in midfield and at the back of the pack, but the young Englishman can draw on experiences from early in his racing days.

“I have got a lot of experience of running at the back in other categories, so its not completely new to me,” Hamilton said.

McLaren used much of Friday’s sessions preparing for Saturday’s qualifying, running a light fuel load, making the slow pace even more stark. However the team was pleasantly surprised in the performance during some longer stints, giving a glimmer of hope for a points finish on Sunday.

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