JEREZ, Spain (AP) — Behind the wheel of his new Mercedes car, Lewis Hamilton felt right at home.
The 28-year-old British driver, who left McLaren for Formula One rival Mercedes this season, drove his new team's new wheels Monday and wasn't disappointed. "I'm happy, that's what I can tell you," said Hamilton, the 2008 world champion. "It's still got a Mercedes engine, so it has all the power I used to have."
Hamilton will be driving with Nico Rosberg this season, and Mercedes is hoping to rekindle the fiercely competitive spirit that they shared as go-kart rivals 13 years ago. "I've known him longer than any other driver here," he said of the German driver. "It's a real privilege to work alongside him."
Team principal Ross Brawn said "the dynamic" between the two Mercedes drivers will be very important. "They're good friends," Brawn said, adding that Hamilton was one of the fastest drivers on the circuit. "His speed is unquestioned, and with Michael Schumacher coming to the end of his career, he's a fantastic replacement."
First around the Jerez circuit in the new car was Rosberg, who said it felt very good and he could "straight away push hard." The 27-year-old German also said the change of partner, with Hamilton replacing seven-time world champion Schumacher, was good.
"It's a fresh start. We're going to push each other," Rosberg said, adding the entire team was aware of a need to improve on its lone victory last season. "We need to close the gap with other teams." Brawn said Mercedes would this season use two development teams working in parallel, "one on developing next year's car and one just for this one."
Last year, the car's performance on the track suffered when engineers began concentrating on developing the new car, he said. "We don't want to fade in 2013, like we did last year," Brawn said, adding the car was already technically advanced. "There's a lot of innovation under the skin of the car which I'm pleased about."
New developments would be added to the car quickly, beginning with what Brawn called "a very interesting new front wing," which would be unveiled for testing on Tuesday. "This car we anticipate is going to be a reasonable amount quicker than what we had at the end of last year," Brawn said.
The former technical director of the championship-winning Benetton and Ferrari teams said all the pieces were in place for a much more competitive season. "We've done the engineering changes I wanted to make, we've got a great driver in Nico, and Lewis is one of the fastest drivers in the world," he said. "We have to perform. We all know what the consequences will be if we don't perform."
Hamilton said he was confident Mercedes would close the gap with its rivals this season. "Last season sometimes they were almost two seconds off the pace, I'm hoping for a massive improvement," Hamilton said, adding he still had a lot to learn about the car. "I've got double the buttons I used to have, I've already got rid of some of them, but there is still much to learn before I can give good feedback."