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F1 NEWS 

McLaren: BMW a serious threat for victory

Lewis Hamilton and Robert Kubica discuss their Melbourne front rowMcLaren expect BMW to present a significant challenge for victory in the Australian Grand Prix after Robert Kubica matched Lewis Hamilton for pace in Melbourne qualifying.

Though Hamilton took the pole, Kubica lines up alongside the 23-year-old Englishman on the front row, less than two tenths of a second behind, having lost a similar amount of time when he ran wide at Turn 12 on his flying lap.

And while Hamilton remains confident he can win the Grand Prix, he is not underestimating Kubica or BMW and believes much will depend on the Pole's fuel strategy.

"They've obviously done a great job and pulled out a great chunk of time and it's great to be competing with them," said Hamilton. "We'll see tomorrow what strategy everyone's on but last year they were quite a bit lighter than the top teams - whether it's the same this year, we'll see."

McLaren team principal Ron Dennis accepted that BMW have raised their game in Australia after a troubled winter testing build-up, but added that the unique nature of the Melbourne circuit meant that it was not an accurate barometer of form for the year.

"They've obviously done a very competent job," he said. "Whatever strengths and encouragement we take from this race, the same applies to everybody: here, Malaysia and Bahrain are races that really don't carry with them the mixture of performance requirements that give a clear indication of where you are.

"Just look at the difference between our performance here last year and Malaysia. I don't think you can take anything away from others' performance but it's too early to put any great store by what they are doing.

"Of course, we are delighted to be where we are on the grid, we did a good job and the drivers have both done excellent tests, practices and race preparation," he added. "See if we can carry this momentum through the weekend. It's a good place to be for any Grand Prix."

Heikki Kovalainen, who will start third on the grid having qualified two tenths behind Kubica, said that he was not surprised by the Pole's speed but added that it was not just BMW that McLaren need to pay attention to in 2008.

"BMW can be there; some days Williams, Red Bull, we have to be ready for anyone and we saw over the winter it's always close and it was no surprise to see a BMW up there," he said.

"They were strong last year and they have a quick car. Like Robert said, maybe it's a bit difficult for them to set it up but once they hit the sweet spot, they're going to be there. It's the same with the other teams - we just have to keep pushing all the time. We can't afford to lose hundredths or thousandths [if we want] to stay ahead."

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