LONdon, March 30, 2013 (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton believes his Mercedes team is now Red Bull's closest challenger and will be capable of mounting a sustained bid for Formula One glory this year.
In the wake of last weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix in which champions Red Bull were split by Sebastian Vettel's decision to ignore team orders and pass team-mate Mark Webber to win, the 2008 champion has pointed to the potential of his outfit.
In the same race, Hamilton's team-mate and friend Nico Rosberg was asked to finish fourth behind him and obeyed.
Hamilton said: "We are the second best team... To be that close - I was competing with the Red Bulls at some stages in the race - and to be in that position is a great feeling."
He said that the result might have been different if Mercedes had not been forced to save fuel for most of the contest.
"Unfortunately, we didn't have enough fuel in the car, more so my side," he added.
"I was fuel-saving from lap 25 and it was very much an impossible task to challenge those up ahead.
I was fuel saving at the end like you would not believe: I was coasting everywhere. I'm sure if we were all on the same fuel it would have been a different situation, so I'm confident about that."
Hamilton thinks the form shown by Mercedes is proof that the team is now in a position to win races.
"Definitely," he said. "I think this (Malaysia) proves that if we keep going in the direction we are heading, then there's a possibility that we
could win a race at some stage this year."
While Hamilton was full of optimism, Rosberg was praised by the team's new motorsport boss Toto Wolff for setting aside his personal interests for the good of the team.
"As a racing driver, deep inside him (Rosberg) is not happy about it," said Wolff. "But he understands why that call was made. We are all grown ups and they are grown up.
"They are professional sportsmen and they understand that sometimes there can be a certain controversy in a certain situation. Obviously as a race driver you are not happy because you could have gone faster, but you also have to bear in mind that it is about the team also, and where the team came from.
"Imagine the two Red Bulls crashing -- you look like an idiot and he looks like an idiot. So we took a conservative approach. Because of where we were last year, it was a good call."
Rosberg was asked to hold ground behind Lewis Hamilton at Sepang to secure a three-four finish.
Hamilton admitted that Rosberg deserved his podium finish.
Unlike the controversial situation at Red Bull where a furore followed the race, Wolff said he was sure there will be no lingering resentment after sitting down with both drivers and team principal Ross Brawn in the aftermath of the race.
"We have sorted it out after the race, Ross and I sat down with the drivers and there is no issue any more," he explained.
"I am really happy that we don't have this problem -- that we have two team-mates who have a good relationship with each other; that we have a driver like Nico who has accepted a call that was not satisfying for him. We have no controversy in this team."