Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes “can close that gap” to Red Bull after scoring second to Max Verstappen in Formula 1’s heavily disrupted 2023 Australian Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion climbed from third on the grid to lead in the early stages of the race, having robustly passed a slow-starting Verstappen on the inside into Turn 3.

That move handed him second at the time to leading team-mate George Russell, who then dropped to seventh as a result of pitting under a safety car that morphed into the first of three red-flag stoppages.

Hamilton and Verstappen could change tyres without a time handicap, and the Mercedes racer controlled the second standing start before Verstappen powered past with DRS into Turn 9.

While Russell retired with a power unit fire, second place for Hamilton marked Mercedes' best result of the season as the team endures with the limited W14 car.

But that score was enough for Hamilton to believe that while it will be "tough", it is "not impossible" for the Three-Pointed Star to reel in the 2023 dominant force Red Bull.

Hamilton, who has complained that the cockpit of the W14 is too far forward relative to the front wheels, said: "I still feel uncomfortable in the car. I still don't feel connected to it.

"I'm driving as best I can with that disconnect and I'm working as hard as I can to try and create that connection. But I think it's a long project.

"But still, considering we've been down on performance, we're clearly down on straight [line] pace compared to the Red Bulls, for us to be up here fighting with Aston [Martin, third in Melbourne] is just amazing at this point in the season.

Lewis Hamilton leads Max Verstappen at Australian GP 2023

"We just have to keep on fighting. A big, big thank you to all the people back at the factory. Let's keep pushing.

"We can close that gap. It's going to be tough but not impossible."

Hamilton did note that Mercedes must assess its reliability record following the early elimination of Russell, with the High Performance Powertrains also breaking down for engine customer team McLaren in the Bahrain season opener.

Hamilton continued: "It's really unlucky for George today. On our side, we've got to look into our reliability – it's generally been really good.

"So, that's really unfortunate. Otherwise, to get those points is really amazing.

"I definitely didn't expect to be second, so I'm super grateful for it."

The Briton also clarified that he "definitely wasn't bluffing" with fears over team radio that his hard-compound Pirellis would not last to the end of the race.

However, the FIA governing body controversially deployed a further two red flag restarts that did help his tyre-saving cause.