Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Motor Racing

F1: Lewis Hamilton 'massively excited' after Mercedes out-pace McLaren in Australia

The first Grand Prix of the season takes place this Sunday

Lewis Hamilton heads into the Australian Grand Prix this weekend “massively excited” as Mercedes proved they could be genuine Formula One world title contenders this season.

Questions were raised throughout testing as to whether Mercedes' pace was real or exaggerated as Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg both produced eye-catching times.

But following the first acid test for all the teams and drivers with today's practice sessions ahead of the curtain-raiser at Melbourne's Albert Park, Hamilton and Mercedes can claim to be in the hunt.

Behind a Red Bull one-two led by reigning three-times champion Sebastian Vettel, Rosberg and Hamilton finished third and seventh-quickest respectively.

Hamilton should have finished higher, only to trundle over the grass at one point on his one run on the quicker of the two Pirelli tyres for this race, the supersoft compound.

In damaging the underneath of the car, that affected Hamilton on a later run with seven minutes remaining in the second session as he ploughed straight on across the gravel, nudging his nose into a tyre barrier.

To further undermine Mercedes' good day, Rosberg pulled off track a few minutes later with a gearbox problem.

Despite the late issues, Hamilton was happy enough with his work on a day when former team McLaren are "undoubtedly struggling" according to team principal Martin Whitmarsh.

"That was a really good day, a surprisingly good day, a positive," Hamilton said.

"We're not massively off the Red Bulls which is really incredible and shows what a great job all the guys back at the factory have done.

"Clearly the Red Bull is massively quick. It always is. They have obviously been sand-bagging the whole time in winter as expected, and all of a sudden they've pulled out a load of time.

"But I don't feel we're miles away. We've gone from being pretty far off at the end of last season to not being too far away from the Red Bull, which I think is pretty impressive.

"It's too early to say right now we're the best of the rest, but we're definitely up there which I'm massively happy about."

Hamilton believes Mercedes' pace will silence a few of the critics who questioned his switch of teams towards the end of last season.

"I'm massively excited to be up there," added Hamilton.

"To think I've made this big step that people were talking down, so to be as competitive as we are today is a real plus.

"It's too early to say whether we'll be on the podium. We'll take it one step at a time."

Hamilton even tried his hand at being a valet after seeing the minor dents on his car once it was recovered from the gravel and returned to the garage.

"I went in there and saw some of the chips on the side of the car and I couldn't believe it," said Hamilton.

"So I got the polish out to try and remove them. Unfortunately it didn't work, but I know everything will be fixed for tomorrow."