F1 champion Lewis Hamilton faces a qualifying nightmare in Australian GP

WORLD F1 champion Lewis Hamilton faces the humiliating prospect of starting the first grand prix of the season near the back of the field with the also-rans. The Herts-born motor racing driver was 18th fastest in today s second practice session for the Au

WORLD F1 champion Lewis Hamilton faces the humiliating prospect of starting the first grand prix of the season near the back of the field with the also-rans.

The Herts-born motor racing driver was 18th fastest in today's second practice session for the Australian Grand Prix.

Only Sebastien Buemi in the Toro Rosso and Renault's Nelson Piquet Jr were slower.

Hamilton won in Melbourne last year, a season that climaxed with him winning the world title in dramatic fashion at the final corner in Brazil.


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However, McLaren officials have admitted that the new MP4-24 package isn't up to scratch yet and that the 24-year-old from Tewin might struggle around the Albert Park track in qualifying on Saturday.

Hamilton is almost certain to go out in the first phase of qualifying and will start Sunday's race well down the grid.

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Norbert Haug, vice-president of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, admitted the team knew it was going to be tough keeping pace with the rest of the field.

He said: "After the winter tests, we knew that we would have a difficult start into the season.

"While our car has improved since the Barcelona test, we still have a lot of work to do."

Martin Whitmarsh, team principal of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, said: "We arrived in Australia fully aware that we'd be facing a tough start to the season.

"But we adhered to a disciplined programme today, focusing on tyre durability work, and weren't swayed by a desire to post flattering times.

"Equally, we're now focusing on implementing the performance steps we've planned for the next few races.

"Overall then we've made good progress recently but are well aware that we've still got a lot of work to do."

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix takes place in the early hours of Saturday morning British time.

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