Hamilton struggled in qualifying in Bahrain but finished third
By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport, Melbourne
Lewis Hamilton said his McLaren's performance in Friday practice at the Australian Grand Prix had raised his hopes of a strong result.
Hamilton, who topped the times ahead of team-mate Jenson Button, said the car felt more competitive than in the first race in Bahrain, where he was third.
"The car feels better than it's ever felt at this track so it's a major positive," said Hamilton.
"Going into qualifying I feel we can at least attack the guys at the front."
Former world champion Hamilton's Bahrain result came after he had qualified fourth, more than 1.1 seconds off pole position man Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull.
In the build-up to Melbourne, he said that McLaren needed to concentrate on a stronger qualifying performance to lay better foundations for the race.
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"I'm relaxed and feel happy with the car," he said. "We've definitely made some improvements and the feeling for the one lap of fuel feels better for us so that's what we've tried to work on.
"We're both comfortable with our pace but we don't know what everyone else is doing or what fuel they're running."
Hamilton and Button have worked in the McLaren simulator ahead of the Melbourne race to work out how to get the best out of the Mercedes-powered MP4-25 at the Albert Park circuit.
Button finished seventh on his McLaren debut in Bahrain after only just making it into the crucial top-10 qualifying shootout but, like Hamilton, he said he could sense real improvements in Australia already
Button said: "The car feels better here than in Bahrain; it feels like we've got the correct downforce for this circuit whereas it didn't for Bahrain, but every time I tried to do a good lap in on a new set of tyres I got traffic, so it's tough out there.
"I feel that the car will be better but we will have to wait and see. I'm sure that we are running possibly less fuel than maybe the Ferraris and the Red Bulls but we'll have to wait and see (on Saturday) and focus on how the car feels and it feels a good step forward."
Melbourne will be McLaren's first race since modifying their rear diffuser after the sport's governing body, the FIA, deemed the design was against the spirit of the rules following the Bahrain Grand Prix.
McLaren, along with Mercedes, had developed wider holes to allow access to the starter motor, which also gave the car an extra aerodynamic advantage.
But the FIA's decision has forced both teams to scrap their designs at Albert Park.
However, McLaren's principal race engineer Phil Prew said the modifications to the MP4-25 were small and would not have any significant impact on performance.
"It certainly won't be better, but we're not anticipating any real loss of performance with that," he said.
"We're hoping in terms on one-lap performance in qualifying we're able to find a slightly better balance than we had in Bahrain.
"We're hopeful that we can have a better showing in qualifying which, as was clear to see, one of our weaknesses."
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Hamilton was disqualified from last year's Australian Grand Prix when he was found guilty of lying to race stewards in an attempt to have rival Jarno Trulli penalised.
However, the 25-year-old said his experiences from the resulting controversy have helped galvanised his resolve.
"I'm just maturing and learning and perhaps making better decisions, and a little bit wiser than I was then," he said. "You just continue to grow and to learn.
"I'm proud that I can say that I'm a friend of Nelson Mandela and every time I see him he says he's still learning, so I've still got a lot of learning to do."
Hamilton - who won the 2008 race at Albert Park - said he has also drawn strength from the start of last year, when McLaren started the season with an uncompetitive car.
"Last year was a long, long struggle but I was able to work on different sides of my driving," he said.
"When I was at the back I had more time to focus on other areas, and when I got to the front I felt that I was stronger and I ended up on a high, and I think I rolled that into this year.
"Overall it just gets better and better and I hope that continues."