LONDON, April 2, 2011 (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton has revved up his bid to reclaim the world title by warning Sebastian Vettel that he cannot expect to have it all his own way as the 2011 Formula One season unfolds.
But the 26-year-old Briton, who won the title in 2008, has conceded that it will take his hard-working McLaren team a couple of races to reach top speed in pursuit of the 23-year-old defending champion.
German Vettel won last Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix to establish himself as the man to beat once again in his super-fast Red Bull car, nicknamed 'Kinky Kylie'.
Looking ahead to next weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix, Hamilton said: "I think the track at Sepang is going to suit the Red Bulls again because it is a massive down-force circuit, but we are going to be competitive and I really believe we will close the gap."
Hamilton finished second behind Vettel in Melbourne where McLaren were running their hastily-revised new car for the first time after a late overhaul of the exhaust system and floor. And Hamilton added that the Red Bull team will need to utilise their Kinetic Energy Regeneration System (KERS) if they hope to stay in front - last Sunday they did not use it at Albert Park.
"Malaysia is a down-force track so you're going to see Red Bull be as quick if not quicker again," said Hamilton, who plans to fly home to England to see his younger brother Nicolas make his racing debut at Brands Hatch in the Clio Cup series.
"But I have no doubts our car can be competitive as well. If you've seen their (Red Bull) front wing, it's almost trailing on the ground. That is massive down-force. "Ours is much higher off the ground. That alone is like 20 points of down-force, like half a second, so as soon as we close that loophole or find out how to do that we will close that performance gap. "We have some small upgrades coming.
Whether or not we can compete with them on pure qualifying pace, I don't know, but I think when it comes to the race there is a much longer straight going into turn one. "If we can get on the first two rows again we can compete with our KERS. I don't think they are going to be able to go too long without KERS. They will need it."
Red Bull boss Christian Horner, who cautioned against his team celebrating their supremacy too soon after last weekend's triumph in which Australian Mark Webber came home fifth, said it was essential for them to have KERS in
Hamilton's McLaren team-mate and fellow-Briton Jenson Button, added: "I don't think they have a good system - we gain between 3.5 and five-tenths from our KERS but I think Red Bull only gain 1.5 and that's why they did not bother with it and the extra weight."
While the McLaren duo relish the prospect of Malaysia, Ferrari were left looking for consolation after a drab run in Australia where they failed to live up to expectations. Spaniard Fernando Alonso, seeking his third world title and first with Ferrari, was a distant fourth, but realistic about the struggle the team faces to deliver glory this year as demanded by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo.
Alonso said: "Obviously, it wasn't the start that we all wanted, but nor is it anything to get worried about. "I already said it at the track: 12 points is not far below the world champion's average last year and two title contenders finished behind me.
So, overall, the Australian Grand Prix can't be defined as disastrous. "Certainly, in qualifying we were very far from Vettel's Red Bull and far from Hamilton's McLaren, but in the race the situation improved - perhaps not
compared to Sebastian, but certainly against the others."