FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamilton goes in first practice for the 2012 Qantas Australian Grand Prix in the early hours of tomorrow (Friday) morning UK time.

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The 2012 FIA Formula 1 World Championship curtain-raiser takes place in Melbourne on Sunday.

And Hertfordshire-born Hamilton, 27, is looking to kick-off his title bid in style around the Albert Park circuit.

Situated in the seaside suburb of St Kilda, Albert Park is a temporary street track that invariably produces unpredictable and exciting racing.

As the sport’s usual opening race since 1996, Hamilton made his Vodafone McLaren Mercedes debut in Australia five years ago.

"Of course, we haven’t tested it in competition yet, but there’s plenty to feel optimistic about."

Lewis Hamilton on McLaren’s 2012 car

March 18, 2007 was the day Tewin racer Hamilton ‘arrived’ in F1.

Starting fourth, the rookie audaciously swept into third at the first corner and ran as high as second with all the assurance of a veteran.

In his first grand prix, he finished on the podium and Hamilton loves the venue.

Hamilton, now based in Monaco, said: “Melbourne is a city that has sport running through its veins – and the crowd lives and breathes it. It’s a great place to start the season.

“For me, Melbourne means sunshine, smiling faces, a great paddock – a bit compact but very friendly, a great city with a really positive vibe – and a racetrack that’s really made for racing.

“A place where you can really get the back-end of the car moving around quite nicely yet still feel like you’re fully in control of the car.

“The track has got a nice flow to it – I love the fast sweepers behind the pits, it’s awesome when you get them right – and it’s a place where, the more you can attack, the faster you go. My kind of place!”

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh is looking forward to the 2012 season and expects McLaren’s two drivers to be challenging for honours.

2012 Australian Grand Prix facts

* Race distance: 58 laps (307.574km/191.110 miles)

* Start time: 17:00 (local)/06:00 (GMT)

* Circuit length: 5.303km/3.295 miles

* 2011 winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)

* 2011 pole: Sebastian Vettel 1m 23.529s (228.552km/h)

* Lap record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) 1m24.125s (226.933km/h)

“At Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, we’ve had an extremely productive winter,” said Whitmarsh.

“I’ve never seen Jenson [Button] and Lewis looking so healthy, committed and prepared for a new season.

“There’s a real hunger within the whole organisation. I’ve witnessed it in conversation with our heads of department, our engineers and our mechanics: we want to win more than ever and we’ve left no stone unturned in our quest for performance.

“Make no mistake, this will be a long, arduous and difficult campaign, and I’m naturally reluctant to stick my neck out and make any predictions, but my greatest hope is that we go to Australia and put on a world-beating show to demonstrate to the world that Formula 1 is back, and back with a bang!”

Car 4: Lewis Hamilton

Age: 27 (January 7, 1985)

GPs: 90

Wins: 17

Poles: 19

Fastest laps: 11

The 2012 Australian Grand Prix starts at 5pm local time, 6am GMT on Sunday.

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