F1 champion Lewis Hamilton doesn't expect to challenge near the front in Australia

WORLD F1 champion Lewis Hamilton doesn t expect to be challenging at the front of the grid in the opening grand prix of the 2009 season. The 24-year-old will begin the defence of his title in Melbourne at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, March 29. How

WORLD F1 champion Lewis Hamilton doesn't expect to be challenging at the front of the grid in the opening grand prix of the 2009 season.

The 24-year-old will begin the defence of his title in Melbourne at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, March 29.

However, following testing Vodafone McLaren Mercedes have said they may not have their MP4-24 car to its optimum ahead of the first race.

Hamilton said: "Perhaps Vodafone McLaren Mercedes doesn't come to Melbourne with the same prospects to challenge at the front that we experienced in both 2007 and 2008, but the whole team will be working tirelessly to help us move back to the front."

In the past two seasons Melbourne has been a place to remember for different reasons for the Tewin racer.

He made his F1 debut at the Aussie city in 2007, making the podium in finishing third.

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A year later Hamilton kicked off his championship-winning term by taking pole position and then clinching first place in the race around Albert Park.

It seems unlikely that the Herts race ace will taste such success in Melbourne this time around.

McLaren Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted: "We go into the start of the 2009 season fully aware that we do not yet have the technical package that will allow our drivers to fight at the front."

Due to this, Whitmarsh and his team head into the opener with what his describes as "realistic expectations".

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