Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton (L) eyes strong start to 2017 season in Australia Reuters

Lewis Hamilton had conceded that Ferrari would start as favourites in the 2017 season but the three-time world champion is positive about Mercedes' chances after setting the pace in the first two practice sessions of Australian Grand Prix on Friday.

While Hamilton and new Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas topped the charts in FP1 with a difference of 0.5s between them, the Brit repeated his feat in FP2 on Friday morning to send an early message to the rest of the pack. However, the Mercedes 1-2 pattern was broken in the second practice session by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who finished 0.547s behind the leader (1:24.620s).

Formula 1 has undergone dramatic changes since the end of last season as United States-based Liberty Media acquired the sport before which 2016 champion Nico Rosberg shocked the racing fraternity with his retirement. There has also been quite a lot of rule changes and the cars have become meaner and it is expected that drivers will have to work hard to earn results in the new season.

While it was being discussed that Mercedes' domination of the sport (titles in 2014, 2015 and 2016) was diminishing the popularity of the sport, Ferrari's pre-season testing results in Barcelona were encouraging as Vettel and his teammate Kimi Raikkonen kept topping the race charts.

Despite all the pre-season buzz, Hamilton, who missed out on the title last season, seems to be determined of starting the season on a high in Australia, where he lost last year after securing the pole position. Having fended off the threat from Ferrari in the first two practice sessions, the 32-year-old expects stiff competition from the Mercedes' rivals and he wants to wait till the final practice session on Saturday to see where they stand.

"It is great to be back in Australia and I am super happy to be back in the car - particularly after a first day like that. It was 99 per cent perfect. I will be pushing as hard as I can to win this race," Hamilton said, after Friday's FP2, as quoted by F1's official website.

"After struggling with some issues in Barcelona, we did not know if we would have the same thing here. What is really encouraging is that we've arrived at the track just a week later and the car is exactly where it should be.

"Coming into today, we really did not know where we would be. We knew from FP1 that the Ferrari's were not at their maximum. Of course, in FP2 all of a sudden they were quick. We will see tomorrow how it really stands."