VALENCIA, Spain, June 24, 2011 (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton hit back at his critics on Friday and then forecast that his McLaren team will be "in the mix" in this weekend's European Grand Prix.
Hamilton was able to clock the second-fastest time behind local hero and two-times champion Fernando Alonso while his teammate Jenson Button was sixth.
Hamilton said: "It's been an interesting day. We bought the new 'medium' (Pirelli) tyre here which has been pretty difficult to use. I guess the Red Bulls and the Ferraris were able to do it, but we were struggling with that.
"But once we put on the option tyre, we saw that we have very decent pace, but there's still improvement that we can make with the car. It looks very tight in the front -- but we are definitely in the fight."
Button commented: "On the softer tyre the balance is pretty good, we are getting there. "But on the harder tyre we still have to do more work. They are very different tyres and they work in a very different way, so it's a bit tricky.
"We have a lot of time and hopefully we'll improve the set-up for tomorrow. I think we know what we have to do, which is good."
Hamilton had earlier joined Michael Schumacher in laughing off comments from retired racer Eddie Irvine and rejecting verbal attacks from Niki Lauda and others following his recent spate of on-track accidents.
The 2008 world champion, like seven-times title holder Schumacher, took no notice of the comments from fellow-Briton Irvine who had told Autosport magazine that Hamilton had "lost the plot."
"People love to take the opportunity to grab the headlines don't they?" said Hamilton. "I guess that is what they have done.
"It doesn't bother me or concern me. He can say what he likes. So can Niki. The stewards (in Montreal) didn't agree with him.
"Jenson (Button, Hamilton's McLaren team-mate) didn't agree with him, my team didn't agree with him. I don't know many people who agree with him.."
Hamilton won the drivers world title in 2008 and has won 15 Grands Prix from 78 starts. Irvine, who spent four years at Ferrari, won four of his 146 races.