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Weather set to test Vettel more than rivals

April 07, 2011 14:40 IST

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel will go into Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix as a heavy favourite, buoyed by a comprehensive season-opening victory in Melbourne a fortnight ago to kick off his world title defence.

Chasing a fourth consecutive win spanning the end of last season and the start of this one, the 23-year-old German could also have the added bonus of the KERS system power boost that the team opted against using at Albert Park.

Red Bull are expected to make a final decision whether to use the kinetic energy recovery system after Friday practice but with Vettel so dominant in Melbourne, his biggest danger is likely to be the notoriously volatile Malaysian climate.

Sebastian VettelVettel stormed to victory around the demanding Sepang circuit a year ago, his cause aided by McLaren and Ferrari's woeful misjudgement of the conditions during qualifying that left them at the back of the grid on race day.

In 2009, Jenson Button, then driving for Brawn GP, won a rain-affected race that was halted by downpours after just 31 of the scheduled 56 laps and half points were awarded for the first time since 1991.

"Malaysia is the first real track we go to, as Australia is a semi-street circuit," Vettel said. "It's hot and rains everyday, but the question is when and how much? It will be a tricky one."

Rain is forecast throughout the race weekend and with the new Pirelli tyres expected to degrade quicker than they did at Melbourne in the sweltering Malaysian temperatures, team tactics will play a huge role on Sunday's outcome.

Vettel's Australian team mate Mark Webber had a disappointing home grand prix, finishing down in fifth after starting third on the grid, but Red Bull are hoping changes made to his car will see him run closer to the other RB7.

"In the sort of post mortem on the event, we found a few things on Mark's car, a few things set-up-wise, that certainly wouldn't have helped Mark, and all those elements have been changed for Malaysia," team principal Christian Horner said.

McLaren enjoyed something of a renaissance in Melbourne with 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton claiming a surprise second place after the team rejigged the car following a disappointing pre-season of testing in Spain.

PECKING ORDER

Hamilton was delighted to finish 22.3 seconds adrift of Vettel in a car that had suffered considerable damage to its undertray in the final session and the Briton expects a truer picture of the championship pecking order to emerge this week.

"After the pace we showed in Melbourne, I think we can have another good race in Malaysia," Hamilton said. "Albert Park is a great track, but a circuit like Sepang is where the differences between the cars will start to become clearer.

"I'm really looking forward to using KERS Hybrid and the DRS (adjustable rear wing) too... the rapid change of direction you experience when the car is really in the groove is phenomenal around here."

The biggest disappointments in Melbourne were Ferrari and Mercedes. Both had promised much in pre-season testing but the Italians were let down by poor qualifying pace while neither of the German cars finished the race following early collisions.

Double world champion Fernando Alonso is far more optimistic of a better showing by Ferrari in Malaysia but remains wary of how much impact the weather will have over the weekend.

"We know we have to improve our performance level, but we are equally aware that in the end, the race result was not such a disaster," the Spaniard said of his fourth place finish in Australia.

"We will have a few minor updates on the car, but nothing very significant. I believe we must stay concentrated on our own work and try to understand how to get all the potential out of the (car) and I'm sure there's plenty to come.

"The fact that the weather can change so quickly here makes the preparation work for the various phases of work on track more stressful."

Seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher expects Mercedes to be in a "fighting mood" for the second round after lasting just 19 laps in Australia, the German believing it was far too early to write him off.

"There is absolutely no doubt we want to do better than in the opening race, which was a disappointment for all of us," the 42-year-old said.

"We clearly see that as a challenge and it is much too early to write us off. Everybody in the team remains positive and is in a fighting mood. So I expect a better weekend for us to come; a weekend we can build on."

Photograph: Getty Images

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