Lewis Hamilton remains upbeat over his title chances despite managing just one podium finish from the first three races of the new Formula One season.
The McLaren driver's third place at the opener in Bahrain has so far been the highlight of the traditional early-season 'flyaway' races, which conclude in China next week before the series heads back to its European heartland.
Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel has shown ominous pace at the opening three races, but mechanical gremlins have conspired to limit his wins to just one, in Malaysia last time out.
Fernando Alonso was the beneficiary of the German's woes in Bahrain as he took the win on his debut for Ferrari, while Hamilton's team-mate Jenson Button profited from Vettel's retirement to win in Australia after making an inspired early switch to dry tyres.
Hamilton, meanwhile, had to be content with a pair of sixth places at the last two rounds, but his consistency has nevertheless kept him well in the title hunt.
The 2008 world champion is sixth in the drivers' standings on 31 points, just eight adrift of championship leader Felipe Massa, and Hamilton was happy to note that the damage done to his title ambitions by McLaren's lack of outright pace has been kept to a minimum.
"I came away from the first three races this year knowing that very little was lost and that everything is still to play for," said Hamilton.
"Could we have scored more points? Almost certainly, but we were reliable when it mattered, and we've shown we have the pace to fight at the front. And that's what I take home from the opening flyaways."
While Red Bull appears to have the quickest car overall, the rest of the pack are too close to call, with McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and even Renault - certainly in the hands of Robert Kubica - showing comparable levels of pace.
Just nine points separate Massa in first from Kubica in seventh in the drivers' standings, and Hamilton believes the level of competition shown so far could yet play into his hands.
"I think the championship order is something that is quite encouraging for us, particularly given the situation we were in last year," he added, referring to McLaren's lack of pace in the early races of 2009.
"I think all the team have perhaps missed some good opportunities - but that's one of those things that can happen when the front of the grid is very close and you're all pushing to gain the maximum advantage."
Hamilton added that he believes the new MP4-25 is the most enjoyable car he has driven in F1 since his debut at the start of the 2007 season.
"I think I'm driving as well as I ever have - I love driving this year's car," he said.
"I said to my engineers in Malaysia that I'd never had a car that felt as solid and as planted as the MP4-25, it feels like a car that you can not only find a perfect balance with, but you can also really push it, and it reacts well to the changes on full tanks or when it's empty. And that's meant I've really been able to push to the limit, which is how I love to drive."
"I don't think I've ever enjoyed driving a Formula One car more than I have with this year's car."
"Of course, it hasn't been perfect - but then nothing is - but I feel extremely confident for the races ahead."
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