Malaysia GP could be a problem says Hamilton

The Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton is expecting a tough time in Malaysia next weekend after wrestling McLaren's under-performing new car to third place in the Australian season-opener.

"Every year gets harder and I would say right now is the biggest challenge for myself, but also for the team," the 24-year-old Briton, who had started 18th and last on the grid, told reporters.

"We've had some serious challenges over the last three years, and this is another big one for us, if not the biggest," he added.

"But like I've said from the beginning, if anyone can do it, we can.

"I've got a huge amount of belief in this team that we can turn it round, and this is a good foundation for us to work on."

Hamilton, who won from pole in Australia last year, threw everything into the mix at Albert Park as he battled to keep the car on the track and carve his way back through the field after a gearbox failure in qualifying.

McLaren, who have openly recognised that their Mercedes-powered car is way off the pace in a season that has been turned upside down by new regulations, had braced themselves for a tough afternoon among the also-rans.

"Going into this weekend I knew we could have a race weekend where we didn't get any points," said Hamilton, who was beaten by both the Mercedes-engined Brawn GP cars.

"Ferrari only got one point (in Australia) last year, but they came back and were strong later on, so anything was possible," he added.

Hamilton finished only fifth in Malaysia last year after second place in 2007, and the Briton warned he would be unlikely to repeat his Melbourne heroics.

"There probably will be a bigger difference between us and the Brawn car. We'll be a little further behind," he said. "But hopefully by China (the third race) and from then on we will be a little bit closer.

"I think Malaysia is going to be even harder for us because the car is incredibly tough to drive at the moment, it's on the knife-edge through all the race," he added.

"I really felt by God's grace I managed to keep the thing on the track.