Lewis Hamilton has echoed team-mate and F1 World Championship-winning successor Jenson Button in stressing the need for McLaren-Mercedes to improve its qualifying performance if it is to continue its victorious Albert Park form into the coming races in 2010 and successfully challenge for the crown.
Prior to his tactically superb Australian Grand Prix triumph last weekend, Button had underlined the importance of a strong grid position given the increased difficulty of overtaking this season and whilst the defending title-winner went on to line up fourth Down Under, compatriot Hamilton – admittedly perhaps somewhat distracted by his run-in with Victoria police the previous night – could do no better than eleventh.
From that point on, the 25-year-old’s race was compromised, and he found himself embroiled in a series of entertaining and energetic – if ultimately frustrating – scraps to move up the order. It is imperative, Hamilton insists, that McLaren finds the key to unlocking the MP4-25’s one-lap speed, and that he and Button are able to better the second row starting spots that they respectively achieved in Melbourne and Sakhir.
“In both Bahrain and Australia we’ve felt more comfortable with our race pace than the pace we showed in qualifying,” the 2008 world champion is quoted as having said by The Guardian. “While that’s encouraging, it has become clear we need to improve our qualifying pace if we’re to have a regular shot at winning races.
“It’s all very well being quick in the race, but if you can’t make up places from your grid position, then your race is still going to be a struggle. We can take home the positives; our car is fast – much faster than it was this time last year – and it seems to be reliable. Now we need to work on single-lap pace, the sooner the better.”
Hamilton currently sits fourth in the drivers’ standings, eight points behind his third-placed team-mate, with McLaren second in the constructors’ table behind only Ferrari – but the Stevenage-born ace was left ruing points and likely even a podium tossed out of the window last weekend, through firstly what he blasted over the in-car radio as a ‘freaking stupid’ strategy call and secondly a late-race coming together with Mark Webber, when he found himself harpooned by his rival’s Red Bull Racing machine with barely a handful of laps to go.
For what he contended was ‘one of the drives of my life’, sixth position was ultimately poor reward – and Hamilton well knows the significance of early points when it comes to the final stages of the season, with Button’s successful challenge for glory last year having been cemented by his early unbeaten run.
“The key to a good championship is consistent points-scoring,” the eleven-time grand prix-winner explained. “Fortunately, the new points system makes it easier to pick up points in each race. Obviously you want to score as many points as you can, but it’s still important sometimes to go for the finish, pocket the points and live to fight another day.
“Even at this early stage in the season we’ve seen it only takes a slight mistake or a small mechanical problem to drop you down the order. That’s something we as a team have been very good at avoiding over the past few years.”
It is something Hamilton will similarly be hoping to avoid in Malaysia this coming weekend, and having finished second around the Sepang International Circuit in only his second-ever grand prix in 2007 and confident that the track will suit McLaren’s car, the British star admits he is ‘optimistic of a good result’.
“Sepang has some of the best high-speed corners on the entire calendar,” he enthused, “and this year, I think we’ve got a car that will be far better-suited to the circuit than we did last year. It’s a fast circuit that requires a well-balanced car with a good level of downforce. In some ways it’s quite similar to Barcelona, where we tested well before the start of the season, so I’m optimistic that we’ll be competitive this weekend.
“However, I still think it might be difficult to make up the difference that’s needed in qualifying. Hopefully, that’s something we’ll be able to solve as soon as possible. Last year we saw what could happen here once the weather took over. While I’m hopeful that this year’s race will be run in the dry, you can never discount the threat of rain. Either way, I think we’ll be competitive.”