MELBOURNE, Australia -- Any concerns Lewis Hamilton had about the competitiveness of his Mercedes were put to rest by two practice sessions at the Australian Grand Prix on Friday after he reported a "night-and-day difference" between the car in testing and the car now.
Mercedes ended pre-season testing with plenty of work to do after problems with the floor of the car affected its balance and performance during the second week. However, updates for the opening round in Australia appear to have had the desired effect and Hamilton set the fastest time by over half a second during Friday practice.
"Coming into today I had no idea where we would stand, obviously I was optimistic we would be at the front, but to go out there and to feel a night-and-day difference from the last days of testing was a relief for all of us," he said. "The car is feeling good, I got through all my running and got a good understanding of the tyres on low and high fuel and it puts us in good stead for [qualifying] tomorrow.
"There were things we struggled with in the test and things weren't quite perfect on the car. So we came here and obviously the car is brand new and fresh with a new floor and new wings and everything is performing at its optimum, which is great.
"The others are still very strong and Ferrari is still right there with us and Red Bull has picked up a lot of pace compared to how they were in testing, so we have got to stay on our toes and make some steps in the right direction."
But Hamilton said he is still wary of rivals Ferrari and Red Bull.
"I think Ferrari are obviously still very, very fast and stronger than they have ever been. We'll have to keep a close eye on them, they might not have the power turned up or whatever it may be. And Red Bull have taken a big step into this weekend and it seems that we are currently as strong, if not a little bit stronger than them."
After such a strong start to the first day of the season, Hamilton is confident he has a car to challenge for the championship.
"Honestly I feel great, I'm really, really happy and proud with all the hard work everyone has done to get the car ready for this weekend. When you get out there and you feel it right underneath you and you feel a strong car and the times come, it's kind of overwhelming a little bit. I'm happy to see that we are there, still in the fight and that means we are going to be fighting whoever it is this year."