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Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

McLaren will struggle - Hamilton

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
Venue: Albert Park, Melbourne Dates: 27-29 March Coverage: Comprehensive live coverage of Friday's practice sessions, Saturday's qualifying sessions and Sunday's race across BBC TV, radio and online. Find complete listings here


Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton backtracked on comments saying he may leave McLaren

Lewis Hamilton begins the defence of his Formula 1 title at the Australian Grand Prix this weekend - but admits he may struggle to keep up in Melbourne.

After a winter of radical rule changes and financial uncertainty, this season promises to be keenly contested.

McLaren have struggled during testing and Hamilton admits they face an uphill task to keep up with their rivals.

"We'll have pretty much the same people challenging for the title as last year - except for us obviously," he said.

Hamilton will be involved in first practice at 0125 GMT on Friday, with qualifying on Saturday at 0500 GMT and Sunday's race begins at 0700 BST.

His downbeat assessment comes after a miserable winter for McLaren - team principal Martin Whitmarsh said two weeks ago the team "had not done a good enough job".

Whitmarsh added: "We have an underdeveloped car, we do not have sufficient aerodynamic downforce and we would like to focus on rectifying that as quickly as we can."

And Hamilton is quick to play down his chances of retaining his crown.

All I said was that it's quite cool if you find out other teams are interested in you - it's good to know you are wanted

Lewis Hamilton

"World champion is a great title to have next to your name," said the 24-year-old Englishman. "But I have reset the targets.

"I do want to be a world champion again - but it will be tough this year."

The mood at McLaren was not helped on Thursday when Hamilton apparently hinted that he could talk to other teams if McLaren continued to struggle.

"I haven't had any offers from other teams, and I am not talking to anyone." he said. "But I would listen to an offer if someone asked. It would be a compliment and it would be silly if I did not."

Hamilton later played down these comments, insisting he is "happy" at McLaren.

"All I said was that it's quite cool if you find out other teams are interested in you," he added. "It's good to know you are wanted."

While McLaren have struggled, some unexpected names are expected to run at the front this year.

The newly-formed Brawn GP team have set the pace in pre-season testing and many local bookmakers have made their English driver Jenson Button the race favourite in Melbourne.

Exclusive interview: Hamilton chats to BBC Sport about being defending champion

The Northamptonshire-based outfit arose from the ashes of former team Honda, who withdrew from the sport in December last year as a result of the global financial crisis.

Brawn's form has surprised many, especially as the team only announced it would run this season at the beginning of March.

Constructors' champions Ferrari have also looked good over the winter, as have BMW, Toyota and Renault.

BMW's Polish driver Robert Kubica has been touted as a possible title contender, while Renault's double champion Fernando Alonso has said he also expects to be in the mix.

But the start of the new season has been soured by a row over a part used by Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota.

Rival teams have argued that the design of their rear diffuser - the part of the floor of the car below the rear wing and between the rear wheels - gives them a substantial aerodynamic advantage and have lodged a protest.

The protesting teams claim the controversial diffusers create more downforce and give a lap-time benefit of as much as 0.5 seconds.

Success this season will depend largely on which teams have adapted best to a raft of rule changes which are intended to promote overtaking and lead to more exciting races.

606: DEBATE

Teams now have access to an optional power boost system that gives drivers an extra blast of power for 6.7 seconds in each lap.

Despite its advantages, kinetic energy recovery system (Kers) is an expensive system to develop and also adds extra weight to the cars, which penalises taller, heavier drivers

Many teams have opted to pass up on the extra power in order to keep costs and weight down.

Renault and McLaren are the only teams to have so far confirmed they will definitely run Kers in Australia.

BMW have said their system is ready, but Kubica revealed on Thursday that he would not be running Kers in Melbourne, while Ferrari have yet to show their hand.

The 2009 season also sees the reintroduction of slick tyres which should help with grip, and increase speed, or as Red Bull's rising star Sebastian Vettel puts it: "Slicks are more fun."

The other big change for this season is the shape of the cars following a number of changes to reduce both downforce and the turbulent wake behind each car - making it easier to overtake.

Jenson Button
Jenson Button and Brawn GP have impressed during testing

Extraneous bits of body work have been removed so cars will look far less cluttered, although they will sport big, wide and low front wings.

These wings will have driver adjustable-flaps on them which can be raised to generate more downforce and lowered to create more straight-line speed. They can only be used twice per lap.



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see also
F1 ready for racing revolution
04 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Clock ticking towards F1 opener
26 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Brundle on Hamilton
04 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Brundle on Alonso
23 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Protest row sours opening F1 race
26 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
F1 rivals fear new boys Brawn GP
25 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
F1 in disarray over scoring plan
20 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Ecclestone backs Button challenge
18 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Hamilton reveals hunger for title
23 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
McLaren up pace during F1 testing
18 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Ex-Honda team 'seal F1 survival'
05 Mar 09 |  Formula 1


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