LEWIS HAMILTON has sounded a note of caution despite believing himself to be firmly in the Formula One world title hunt this season.
Hamilton was appreciably deflated following Sunday's Australian Grand Prix after finishing third behind McLaren team-mate Jenson Button and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel after starting from pole.
The winner inside Hamilton will know he should have done better, primarily because McLaren have built a winning car this year, as Button steered home to victory at Melbourne's Albert Park.
It means there is obvious cause for optimism heading swiftly into this weekend's second race of the year in Malaysia, although the 27-year-old is also wary of getting too far ahead of himself.
"I know this is a car I can definitely challenge for the title with," Hamilton said. "As for me, I definitely do feel as though I've got it in myself to go for the title.
"I feel as ready as ever. I was ready on Sunday, it's just that some things didn't go my way. But we appear to be the team to beat, which is a good sign. The team have been working hard for that.
"It's definitely the position to be in, and we're strong which is also a good place to be. But we can't get too carried away. It's too early to tell.
"In qualifying we were massively quick and competitive, but then Red Bull were massively quick in the race.
"They are still a force to be reckoned with. I guess we're just an edge ahead, but we can't get too complacent."
As far as team principal Martin Whitmarsh is concerned, he is confident the track in Sepang, with its long straights leading into tight hairpins, should play to McLaren's early strengths.
"It makes you feel a little more confident, assuming the trend we saw in Barcelona (during pre-season testing) remains," Whitmarsh said.
"We ought to feel comfortable we can go to a high-speed track like Sepang and be very competitive. That is the aim anyway.
"We mustn't get carried away, but we were pretty good in the high-speed corners. We looked like we were quickest.
"If anything, Red Bull were beating us in traction areas, so to come away from a circuit like Melbourne where we were reasonably strong in relation to them, I think the theory goes we should be strong when we get to the next track.
"Based on our performance we should believe we are going to be quite quick there."