F1 champion Hamilton returns to track

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/l/lewishamilton.jpg' class='caption'> Lewis Hamilton returned to the track on Wednesday for the first time since clinching the Formula One championship.

Updated: January 22, 2009 18:23 IST
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Portimao, Portugal:

Lewis Hamilton returned to the track on Wednesday for the first time since clinching the Formula One championship.

In his first taste of McLaren's 2009 car, the 23-year-old Hamilton, F1's first black driver and youngest champion, set a fastest lap time of 1 minute, 30.242 seconds after completing 81 laps around the Algarve circuit. That was just over two seconds slower than Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi.

It was Hamilton's first drive since clinching the F1 title in dramatic fashion at the Brazilian GP more than two months ago.

"It was good to be back working with the team _ it felt like I'd hardly been away because it was easy to slip back into the routine," Hamilton said. "Everything very quickly felt normal today."

A damp morning track forced Hamilton to drive with some 2008 fittings _ specifically a rear wing and intermediate tires _ but the afternoon sun soon had him out on slick tires and utilizing a narrow rear wing, in line with the 2009 modifications.

"This first test was all about just getting used to the new car and the new regulations and about giving my feedback to the engineers. It wasn't about setting a fast time," Hamilton said. "The car feels good, we've made lots of progress over the winter and I'm looking forward to developing the car ahead of the Australian Grand Prix."

Hamilton believes the next two months of testing before the race at Melbourne on March 29 will be crucial with in-season testing banned as teams look to cut costs.

"It's going to be an extremely busy winter. With the limitations on testing during the season, and the few sessions we have over the next two months, this is going to be an intense time and absolutely critical for every team," said Hamilton, who will hand the MP-24 car to teammate Heikki Kovalainen on Thursday, the last day of testing at the southern Portugal track.

Nico Rosberg of Williams had the second fastest lap after Buemi, while Toyota's Timo Glock and Fernando Alonso of Renault completed the field.

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