Formula 1 - Hamilton: Mercedes now second best

Lewis Hamilton believes his Mercedes team is now Red Bull's closest challenger.

Formula 1 - Hamilton: Mercedes now second best

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Third-placed Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain gives the thumbs up as he celebrates on the podium after the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix

The former world champion thinks the pace shown by his team in the opening two races - allied to his first podium with the outfit in the Malaysian Grand Prix – proves Mercedes is now a serious frontrunner.

"We are the second best team," said Hamilton, when asked by AUTOSPORT about how encouraged he was by the Malaysia performance.

"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."

Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg shadowed rivals Red Bull for much of the Malaysian GP, before they were ordered to go into fuel-save mode towards the end of the race.

Hamilton believes that the outcome of the race would have been different had the team got its fuel strategy right.

"Unfortunately, we didn't have enough fuel in the car, more so my side," he explained.

"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."

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