- Lewis Hamilton is not expecting Mercedes to challenge immediately
- Hamilton left McLaren to join Mercedes on a three-year deal
- The 2008 world champion finished fourth in last year's drivers' championship
- Hamilton will make his Mercedes debut at the Australian Grand Prix in March
Lewis Hamilton says it would be "spectacular" if his new Mercedes team were able to compete when the 2013 Formula One season begins in March, but the 2008 world champion is not expecting to challenge at the front of the grid.
Hamilton ended a career-long association with McLaren to sign a three-year deal with Mercedes in September.
Despite competing for race wins in each of his six seasons with McLaren, the Briton accepts that his new team are some way behind the pace set by his former employers and Ferrari and Red Bull.
"I think it's important to be patient and realistic," the 28-year-old was quoted as saying on Formula One's official website. "You've got to remember that the way Formula One has gone over the years, with the car evolving each year and how long it takes to find one second throughout the season.
"Mercedes were 1.1 seconds behind in Brazil... it's going to be very difficult for them in three months to gain two seconds. So I've just got to be wary of that, but I know that the guys are working as hard as they can and every little bit counts.
"This is a marathon, not a sprint. It's looking like the long haul. I hope that this year that we can be competitive. If we arrive at the first race and we are at the front it's going to be spectacular, but if we're not, then we just have to keep on working at it."
Hamilton endured a frustrating 2012 campaign with five race retirements denting his title challenge, eventually having to settle for a fourth-place finish in the drivers' championship. The Briton is willing to display similar patience with his new team.
"You've got to remember I had a couple of half-dodgy cars in the past, one in particular in 2009, but it did get better," he continued. "Perseverance is going to be key for all of us.
"There is a great spirit -- just as there was in my previous team -- and the guys seem hungrier than any group of people I've seen before. They seem seriously hungry to win and excited that they have another shot of it again this year."
Hamilton is looking forward to getting behind the wheel of his new car during preseason testing in Jerez, Spain next month, before making his grand prix debut in Australia in March.
"Hopefully in those first days I'll have quite a good impact because I'll be able to compare one car to the other and say what we do and don't have," he said.
"I'll be able to say how the car is and how it could be better. But it'll take some time to dial in and get up to speed because they've got different controls on the steering wheel, different settings, a different set-up, and different characteristics of aero balance.
"I don't know how long it'll take for me to dial those in but I'm on top of it and I'm ready to get going."