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I'm back in title fight - Lewis Hamilton

Sebastian Vettel

Highlights - Australian Grand Prix

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport in Melbourne

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton declared himself back in contention for the 2011 title after finishing behind Red Bull winner Sebastian Vettel in Australia.

Hamilton is confident McLaren can catch Red Bull after returning to form in Melbourne following a winter hit by poor pace and reliability.

"I'm back in the fight," said Hamilton. "I'm only a few points behind the guy in front who has a much faster car.

"We will close that gap. I have no doubts about that."

Hamilton conceded that Red Bull, who revealed they ran without the Kers energy-boost device at the weekend, are still the team to beat.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton 'chuffed' with podium

But the 26-year-old, who recently expressed his wish to add multiple titles to his 2008 crown, is confident McLaren can eventually haul in Red Bull over a race distance.

"It is very clear that Red Bull have a fantastic car," added Hamilton, who collected his 38th career podium in Melbourne.

"They've had the fastest car since towards the end of 2009 and they continue to have the fastest car.

"We clearly showed today after the first stint that we can compete with them in the race.

"So if we can get ourselves up at the front then we can put them under pressure."

McLaren signalled a turnaround in form when they topped Friday practice after a flurry of activity at their factory saw them arrive with a heavily updated car.

In particular, the team chose to abandon a complex but unreliable 'octopus' exhaust system - with multiple exits to diffuse air across the floor - and revert to a more conventional exhaust with a similar design to Red Bull and Ferrari, and a new floor and front wing.

Hamilton was also the closest car to Vettel in terms of pure pace as he qualified second, 0.788 seconds behind the Red Bull to join Vettel on the front row.

"It's very rare you ever see such a big leap in performance in F1," added Hamilton.

"I feel really privileged to be up here as we thought it was going to be quite a bad weekend but I'm back up here and back in the fight.

"What we've done coming from a car that was probably going to arrive here two seconds off the pace to being [nearly] a second off in qualifying, to our race pace being very, very similar, that's probably the most impressive part for me."

Hamilton managed to claim second despite damaging the entire front section of his floor half way through the race.

McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh told BBC Sport: "I don't know how he did it. He had an excursion but it either broke of its own accord or broke in that excursion.

"You could see from that point on he was losing a lot of downforce so it was just a question of conserving the car, staying off the kerbs and looking after it."

Jenson Button

Button frustrated by 'slow' Massa

Hamilton's team-mate Jenson Button had a frustrating race, finishing sixth after receiving a drive-through penalty for cutting a corner on lap 11.

Button was involved in a fierce battle with Felipe Massa and could not overtake the Brazilian after losing position to the Ferrari driver at the start.

The Englishman went down the escape road when the pair went side by side into Turn 12 and after Massa pitted soon after, Button was unable to give the position back.

"I got an OK start and then I was surprised to see [Vitaly] Petrov on the inside, he got a very good start and forced me wide," Button told BBC Sport.

"I got stuck behind Massa because I got a very poor exit out of Turn One and that was the worst move of the race because he was so slow.

"He is the most difficult person to overtake. He blocked very well but it just slowed us both down massively.

"Then I tried to overtake him and he went so deep into the corner, pushed me wide and I couldn't go round the corner anymore so I cut it. I was in front before we entered the corner.

"I didn't know what to do, the team said stay where you are which is the correct thing to do, we'll see what the stewards say.

"As soon as Ferrari saw that happen they pitted Massa and as soon as that happens, you get a drive-through. I don't know if that was done on purpose or not.

"I got a drive-through, then I had to fight my through which was quite fun but being that far back was very frustrating because the pace was much better than that."

ANDREW BENSON'S BLOG

Whitmarsh said he was disappointed with the penalty given to Button.

"Felipe was reasonably spirited in his defence, Jenson felt he had no alternative other than to leave the track when he was trying to get past him," Whitmarsh told BBC Sport.

"At that point we asked the FIA: 'What do you want to do?' We got no advice and then we were told we had a stewards' inquiry.

"A little bit disappointing but Jenson did a great job just to fight his way back and get some solid points.

"It's a healthy result. Inevitably you are always going to be disappointed if you don't win the race.

"Overall, it would have been nice to have two cars on the podium but two weeks ago I would have taken this result quite happily."



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see also
Australian Grand Prix race result
27 Mar 11 |  Results
Vettel beats Hamilton in opener
27 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Vettel plays down car 'dominance'
27 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Petrov boosted by Renault podium
27 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Perez is silver lining for Sauber
27 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Australian GP as it happened
27 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Australian Grand Prix photos
27 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Australian GP from the pit lane
27 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Vettel blasts to Australian pole
26 Mar 11 |  Formula 1


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