Hamilton hopes for more downforce
By Andrew Benson
BBC Sport in Bahrain
Lewis Hamilton was relieved to take third place behind the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Hamilton was a second off the pace in qualifying but, once past Nico Rosberg, his McLaren matched the leaders in a race won by Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
"In clear air, on new tyres, the car felt great. It's good to know we can match these guys," he said.
"I am quite happy but the Ferrari is definitely the car to beat."
Alonso won on his debut for Ferrari after the early leader, Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, hit trouble.
We have to make a big step because in the middle sector of the lap, we are really lacking
The German led from the start, but Alonso and team-mate Felipe Massa closed in on him after the drivers' only pit stops.
They seemed set for an intriguing battle for the lead, but Vettel slowed thanks to a loss of power with 16 laps to go and the Ferraris swept by.
Hamilton lost a place to Mercedes driver Rosberg on the first lap, after being pushed wide by Massa.
He had to follow the German until his pit stop on lap 15, by which time he had lost nearly 20 seconds to Vettel.
Hamilton said: "I am quite happy. We got held up a bit at the beginning so we were not able to show our true pace, especially in that first stint, and keep up with the Ferraris.
"Nevertheless, third place is a great start for us but we have a lot of work to do to close the gap.
"My start was good - I actually got a real perfect start - (but) Felipe pushed me very wide. Unfortunately I braked a bit late and lost major ground. Rosberg went past me and I had no chance to get back on him because he was too quick in the mid-sector.
"I got squeezed by Felipe at Turn Four. He was being quite competitive and fortunately he gave me space at the end. I didn't realise how far ahead I was by then, though.
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"If I had have pulled that move off on the outside I would have been able to keep up with Fernando. I honestly feel that I would have been able to keep up but it's all about if and when.
"But we have to make a big step because in that middle sector (of the lap) we are really lacking.
"Since I have been here at McLaren we have never really had an amazing rear end. The car is great in the high speed but not so good in the low- and medium-speed corners at the rear, so we really need to pick up some down force there."
Alonso said he expected a close fight throughout the season after a race in which the Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren cars appeared to be closely matched.
"The drivers in the top four teams are all in contention for the title," Alonso said.
"We saw the potential of the McLaren today. We saw the potential of the Red Bull - they were quicker than us in qualifying and maybe a little quicker in the race as well.
"We saw the pace of the Mercedes in free practice on Friday and in the early part of qualifying. But it will change from race to race."