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Australian GP: Lewis Hamilton praises George Russell and clarifies radio rant as Mercedes 'maximise'

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished third and fourth for Mercedes in Melbourne despite Ferrari and Red Bull's pace advantage; Drivers praise team for "picking up the pieces" while Hamilton explains "difficult position" radio message

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Lewis Hamilton was pleased with Mercedes' progress over the weekend, with himself and George Russell finishing fourth and third respectively

Lewis Hamilton hailed George Russell's performance and Mercedes' result as "amazing" at the Australian GP as the world champions salvaged third and fourth on Sunday despite their car issues.

Mercedes, who have yet to bring car upgrades, were still off the pace compared to Ferrari and Red Bull in Melbourne, but just like in the season-opener the world champions capitalised on problems from their rivals.

In Bahrain, a double DNF for Red Bull lifted Mercedes up the order, and in Australia it was a poor weekend for Carlos Sainz and another retirement for Max Verstappen that gave the Silver Arrows a podium, with this time George Russell ahead of Hamilton.

"It's an amazing result for us as a team," said Hamilton after taking fourth.

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Max Verstappen retires after engine issues cause him to pull off the track at the Australian GP

"Whilst we haven't necessarily improved the car in these three races, I think we've extracted the most we could have points wise. To come away with this result is great.

He added to Sky Sports F1: "This weekend, we've had so many difficult moments with the car, so to get ourselves fifth and sixth in qualifying and to progress like we have, we definitely didn't expect third and fourth."

Hamilton clarifies 'difficult' radio message, praises Russell

Hamilton stays fifth in the standings after the Australian GP, and is now 43 points off runaway race winner Charles Leclerc.

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Russell, Hamilton's new young British team-mate, is second - having got ahead of Hamilton at Albert Park after pitting under a Safety Car.

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Sergio Perez overtakes Lewis Hamilton into third place of the Australian GP

Hamilton was unhappy about losing a position and said on team radio in the closing laps that Mercedes put him in a "difficult position" - which appeared to be a message of discontent about the strategy - although the seven-time world champion later clarified.

"I couldn't fight for third because the engine was overheating, so I had to back off," he said, before reserving praise for Russell.

"It's incredible. He's done an amazing job today, he had great pace. He's been so solid these first three races and he's working and really grafting away. He's doing an amazing job.

"I saw a bit of him racing Perez and I wish I could have been in it, but we'll take these points and keep pushing."

Out of title race? 'I'm hoping we can get in the fight'

Hamilton also says he is remaining "optimistic" despite Ferrari and Leclerc's big title leads, with the Monegasque still half a minute ahead of Hamilton despite two Safety Cars on Sunday.

"There are 20 races to go," he said. "If you think realistically, with the way the sport goes in the way it's developing, the top teams generally develop at a similar rate.

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Watch the opening lap of the Australia GP

"Will that be the case with this new car? Who knows. But I'm really really hoping we can get in the fight soon.

"But with every improvement we make, they and Red Bull will probably make the same sort of step, so it's not going to be easy. The gap is pretty big right now but there's a long way to go."

Russell 'proud' after first Merc podium

While having slower packages than Ferrari and Red Bull in Australia, Mercedes scored more points than both their rivals - who each had a car not finish the race.

Russell, who claimed his first podium for Mercedes and his second in F1 after the half points fiasco of Belgium last year, is now second in the championship and told Sky Sports F1: "It doesn't matter how fast your car is if you don't make it to the end and you're not there to pick up the pieces."

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George Russell reacts to his first-ever podium for Mercedes

"This weekend we were probably the fifth-fastest team probably behind Alpine and McLaren, but here we are P3 and I'm P2 in the championship, which is crazy to think.

"We've got to be proud with the job we've done so far, with the lack of performance we have, and we believe we can get there, but it's not going to happen overnight and it's going to be a couple of races to close the gap."

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