SAKHIR : Hamilton stunned with Mercedes performance. The seven-time world champion topped the Bahrain practice ahead of George Russell.

Lewis Hamilton, the seven-time world champion, who will leave Mercedes for Ferrari next year, said he felt much happier with the team's new 2024 car, adding there is more performance '' to extract ''.

'' It's a shock, but we'll take it,'' he said. ''It feels like a race car for once.''

He acknowledged that although Mercedes had outpaced defending champion Max Verstappen's Red Bull in qualifying trim, the Dutchman's long run pace in race set-up was still much faster.

'' Overall I'm feeling much happier with the car than last year,'' he said.

'' We've made some good improvements and it feels more like a race and it's a really good platform for us to build from.

'' We just need to keep our heads down  and keep chasing.''

Hamilton topped the times under the lights at the Bahrain International Circuit with a best lap in one minute and 30,374, two-tenths clear of team mate George Russell with two-time champion Fernando Alonso third for Aston Martin.

Hamilton said Mercedes would be in ''in the mix'' for a podium position along with Ferrari, Aston Martin and McLaren but expected Verstappen to ''veer off'' into the distance in Saturday's race, the first of an unprecedented 24-race season. [REUTERS]


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