'THIS COULD BE SPECIAL YEAR'
Hamilton hopeful of repeating championship-winning season in 2008
He has been in this position before.
His teammate Nico Rosberg may be the Formula 1 championship leader after winning in Melbourne three weeks ago, but Lewis Hamilton remains the bookmakers' favourite to win the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend.
The Mercedes driver certainly kept the lofty expectations abuzz, when he set the fastest time of 1min 40.691sec on the 5.5km circuit in yesterday's opening practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang.
But, time and again, the 29-year-old has failed to deliver on race day, without a win in 10 races since taking the chequered flag at the Hungarian Grand Prix last July.
Hamilton has endured five frustrating seasons since he won the championship in 2008, with an error-strewn 2011 and an underperforming car last year.
Has the pressure increased for the Briton?
"In a way, yes," he admitted to the media after the practice round.
But Hamilton draws inspiration from it.
"I've always embraced it, it's never affected me negatively," he said.
When asked if it has bothered him that he hasn't won in 10 races, the affable Briton smiled and shook his head.
"This could be a special year, I really do believe that," he said.
"Mercedes are in a good position right now. You saw that with Nico in Melbourne. Personally, I'm very optimistic about our chances (in Malaysia).
The Malaysian Grand Prix looms as a test of engine reliability.
Although the new V6 turbo hybrid engines passed the test in Australia, with 70 per cent of the field finishing, the heat and humidity at Sepang - coupled with the two long straights - will put the cars through their toughest test so far.
"Reliability is going to be the main issue this weekend for everyone, but the (Mercedes) team have done an exceptional job. If you see what's going on back at the factory. then you'll know why we are where we are," Hamilton said.
Hamilton was 0.15 of a second faster than Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, whose Ferrari team were disappointing in the season opener in Australia.
Rosberg was third fastest, ahead of the McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen. Rosberg then clocked a best time of 1:39.909 in the second session in the afternoon.
Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel did less than half the laps of his rivals, indicating continued issues for the Red Bull after he retired early in Melbourne with engine problems.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was only 11th fastest, after an uncharacteristic spin at Turn Eight with half an hour of the first practice session remaining.
"We are on a learning curve, which is not unusual for the start of a championship. To find out how competitive we are, as usual we will have to wait until Saturday and Sunday," said Alonso, after the famous red team concentrated on systems checks for much of the session. "Usually, Friday is a very confusing day, because everyone is working on their own programmes, but this year it's even more the case because of all the new elements.
NO PROBLEMS SO FAR
"Everything went well, with no reliability problems and we managed to get a good understanding of the tyres, which will be a very important factor here because of the high temperatures."
Hamilton said he was wary of the threat posed by Ferrari.
"If you look at their apex speed, Ferrari have a good car. We can't sit back and think we don't have to do anything more for the year, because these guys will be chasing," said Hamilton.
"Also, I feel like the Red Bull (car) is probably just as fast as ours. If they get their engine situation as good as ours, but I don't think they will, because Mercedes are the best."
REPORTING FROM SEPANG