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Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button upbeat for Melbourne

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton feeling 'fit and focused'

Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, 25-27 March
Practice: Friday 25 March, 0125-0305 and 0525-0705; and Saturday 26 March 0255-0405, Red Button, online and 5 live sports extra
Qualifying: Saturday 26 March 0500-0730 on BBC One, BBC HD channel, Red Button, online and 5 live sports extra
Race: Sunday 27 March 0600-0900 on BBC One, BBC HD channel, Red Button, online and Radio 5 live sports extra

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport in Melbourne

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are optimistic they can fight for victory in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix.

McLaren have struggled with pace and reliability in testing but arrive in Melbourne hopeful that an updated car can help close the gap on their rivals.

“We didn't come here with the quickest car last year but we won the race,” said 2010 Melbourne winner Button.

Team-mate Hamilton added: “We've had the ability to win races. Hopefully we won’t be too far behind.”

Hamilton and Button returned to Melbourne as the winners of the last three races held at the parkland circuit but on the back of three difficult pre-season tests.

Since the final Barcelona test, the team have worked rapidly to switch the car’s ‘octopus’ exhaust system, which did not bring the performance gain they hoped for, to a regular exhaust with the addition of a new floor.

“Winter testing was not easy for us, it was very tough,” said Button, who has won the last two races at Albert Park.

Jenson Button

Button opposes team orders rule change

“Reliability was not as good as we would have hoped, we didn’t do a lot of mileage and we couldn’t really see the pace of the car.

“With the new exhaust system and a few other tweaks then hopefully we’ve made up quite a bit of ground.

“I like the aggressive approach of bringing a new exhaust system here and really fighting for it.

“Whether it's enough to challenge the top teams we'll have to wait and see. We could be pleasantly surprised this weekend.”

Lewis Hamilton is also cautiously confident that the modified MP4-26 will help them close the gap on frontrunners.

After pre-season testing, McLaren were understood to have fallen behind not only pacesetters Ferrari and Red Bull but also teams including Mercedes and Renault in the chasing pack.

“Hopefully we are a lot closer than we were in Barcelona,” said Hamilton. “We have an adapted exhaust and an adapted floor, so fingers crossed when I get in the car I’ll have more downforce.

“The downforce gives you overall grip and that gives you confidence to attack corners more, to carry that speed through the high-speed corners and to get on the power harder.

“We are looking at the challenge positively. My guys haven't given up and said ‘this is all we have, you'll just have to deal with it’.

“They've made every attempt to improve the car and hopefully we won't be too far behind.

“I've won a race in every season I've raced in and we've had the ability to pull through whatever circumstances and win races.”

All 12 teams will get a chance to find out where they are when first practice begins at Albert Park at 0130 GMT (1230 local time).

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see also
16 Mar 12 |  Drivers & Teams
Lewis Hamilton profile
26 Nov 11 |  Drivers & Teams
Jenson Button profile
26 Nov 11 |  Formula 1
Red Bull throw down F1 gauntlet
24 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Ferrari in formidable form
24 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Hamilton & Button's uneasy peace
22 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
McLaren drivers discuss rivalry
18 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Button wins dramatic Australia GP
28 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Button seals dream Australia win
29 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Hamilton wins dramatic F1 opener
16 Mar 08 |  Formula 1

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