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Lewis Hamilton says he can beat Red Bull in Australia GP

Sebastian Vettel

Highlights - Australian Grand Prix qualifying

By Richard Rae

Lewis Hamilton has promised pole sitter Sebastian Vettel "the race of his life" in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

Hamilton, who qualified in second, was hugely encouraged by the improvement in reliability and speed achieved by his McLaren team since pre-season testing.

"We've taken a lot of heat over the last few weeks from our winter testing, and what a turnaround," said Hamilton.

"The race is winnable from where I am, regardless that Sebastian is a little ahead in terms of pace."

The car lacked speed and reliability in testing because of problems with a complicated exhaust system.

This has been replaced by a more conventional design for the first race and McLaren have found a major step forward in performance.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton hails McLaren turnaround

Hamilton said: "The guys have been sweating back home because we've had reliability problems, and obviously the car wasn't performing in a certain area where we would have wanted.

"But I got in the car this weekend, and I'm trying to be a bit cautious and not too optimistic, but in qualifying the car felt fantastic.

"We've obviously got some work to do from here, but the race is winnable from where I am and I plan on giving [Vettel] the race of his life."

However, Hamilton also said it was important not to get over ambitious.

"The race isn't won on the first corner," the 26-year-old Englishman said.

"I'm just going to try to focus and get a good start and bring the car home with some good points because I know the car is going to get better later. Of course I want to win but all in good time."

Hamilton's team-mate Jenson Button was pleased to have qualified fourth, alongside Mark Webber's Red Bull on the second row and ahead of the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso.

Button said: "All the way through qualifying the car felt great - I think we have got to be very happy with ourselves this weekend.

Jenson Button

Button looking to close gap on front runners

"From where we came from in winter testing, a big thank you to all the guys back at the factory. They have done a tremendous job. Not just to bring reliability but to bring some great performance as well.

"It's amazing that both guys on the front row didn't have Kers, especially Sebastian. Let's hope it doesn't work at the start, then I'll be happy!"

Although the new Pirelli tyres are not wearing as quickly on the Albert Park circuit as some had predicted, Button believes the timing and number of pit-stops could still be critical.

"It's going to be a really big mix and I think all the teams will be watching each other to see what they do," he said.

"You can also get caught out like that. You do have to think on your feet but also you have to have a plan. I really trust [my team].

"They have done a great job with strategy so far. The great thing is that the driver can have some input to when they think it's time to pit with the tyres."

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh pointed out that Button also started last year's Australian Grand Prix in fourth position and went on to win.

"We have two great race drivers and we've got to look after the tyres, make no mistakes, and see if we can win a race tomorrow," he said.

"Jenson has been as quick as Lewis all this weekend, he wasn't quite comfortable with the balance of the car in that session so by his standards that was a disappointing performance - but nonetheless he is on the second row.

"He can win a race from there, Lewis can win a race. We've got to push Sebastian hard."

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see also
Australian Grand Prix from the pit lane
27 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Ferrari will improve, says Alonso
26 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Vettel blasts to Australian pole
26 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Australian GP qualifying as it happened
26 Mar 11 |  Formula 1

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