Red Bull aim to hit back in Sepang

Team boss confident Malaysian Grand Prix circuit will help Red Bull close in on McLaren at second race of the season.

    Double world champion Sebastian Vettel was unable to stop Jenson Button in Melbourne but Red Bull's principal Christian Horner expects his team to keep up with McLaren [GETTY]

    Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is confident that the inherent differences between the Grand Prix circuits in Melbourne and Malaysia will help his drivers turn the tables on McLaren in race two of the Formula One season.

    There is little opportunity for teams to improve their cars with just a week between the opening two races, but the Malaysian Grand Prix has the potential to force a very different running order.

    The Red Bull cars should be more suited to the sweeping high-speed corners of Sepang than they were for the sharp turns on the street circuit at Melbourne's Albert Park, and Sebastian Vettel's second-place finish in the season-opening race at Australia has given the team plenty of encouragement.

    Different prospect

    "We knew from winter testing that McLaren were competitive but our race pace was every bit the equal of theirs,'' Horner said after the Australian GP.

    "Malaysia is a very different prospect from here.''

    Melbourne "is short turns, bumpy, not a lot of high-speed corners but Malaysia offers that variant, so it will be interesting to see how quick (McLaren) are in Malaysia.''

    McLaren earned two spots on the podium in Australia, with Jenson Button winning and Lewis Hamilton in third place. For Red Bull, Vettel was close to Button and Mark Webber was not far behind Hamilton in fourth place.

    But the late emergence of the safety car had an impact on the closeness of the finish, leaving McLaren confident they retain a distinct edge over Red Bull that they can carry through the season.

    "We can win this if we improve the car at a quick-enough rate,'' team principal Martin Whitmarsh said.

    "So that is clearly what we are going to set out to do.

    "We have got two fantastic drivers and a strong team, and now it is up to us. We are starting from the right place.''

    McLaren's Jenson Button swept home in Melbourne [EPA]

    Button's outperformance of teammate Hamilton was a mixed blessing for McLaren. The calm and calculating Button has built on his second-placed finish in last year's championship and appears the ideal driver for what looms as a much tighter title race this season.

    "He has such a mature, laid-back easy manner that belies the underlying hunger to win that he has,'' Whitmarsh said.

    "He must now believe that he is in a good chance of a proper title run this year.''

    Hamilton's stony-faced demeanour after the race was more problematical.

    Whitmarsh read it as an admirable refusal to accept anything less than winning, but after a 2011 season when Hamilton blamed his state of mind as the reason behind his struggles, such a marked level of disappointment could be a concern for the team.

    "Lewis isn't going to be happy after Australia and when he starts getting happy with being third, or beaten by his teammate, then he won't be the Lewis we all love and admire,'' Whitmarsh said.


    The two main perceived challengers to McLaren and Red Bull are Ferrari and Mercedes, and both teams will be eager to get on top of their problems after contrasting races in Melbourne.

    Ferrari were well off the pace in qualifying, but Fernando Alonso's fifth-place finish was a better-than-expected return for a team that are still in the developmental stage of refining their 2012 car.

    Mercedes' first race was the opposite: a strong performance in qualifying was followed by a curious lack of pace in and they netted just a single point from the race.

    Both teams had high levels of tire wear in Australia. A switch from the mild autumn twilight of Australia to the intense heat and humidity of Malaysia will greatly alter tire grip and wear, but no team is sure how the new Pirelli compounds will perform at Sepang.

    Mercedes have the off-track distraction of ongoing challenges to the legality of their innovative wing design, in which a duct in the rear wing is exposed when that wing is opened under Drag Reduction System conditions.

    The sport's governing body, the FIA, has given the system an initial okay, but Lotus and Red Bull have asked for further clarification on the design.

    Lotus goes to Sepang buoyed by a promising performance in Australia, where Romain Grosjean qualified a surprise third before an early collision ended his race, and big-name signing Kimi Raikkonen drove creditably from 18th on the grid to finish seventh.

    Another team looking to build on a good showing in Melbourne is Williams.

    Pastor Maldonado crashed out on the final lap when pressuring Alonso for fifth place. Had he held on for sixth, he would have gathered more points than the team did in the entire 2011 season, suggesting F1's fallen giant may at last be returning to competitiveness.



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