Malaysia: After going from long shot to Formula One title contender by winning the Australian Grand Prix, Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen will be looking to build on that success in Malaysia. The unflappable Finn doesn't seem concerned that three-time defending F1 champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso may have figured out how to pull off a two-stop strategy that was a big part of Raikkonen's success.
Raikkonen, who won his lone F1 title in 2007 with Ferrari, said Lotus isn't making any significant changes for the Malaysian GP and would let others decide whether he is driver to beat. "We don't do anything different this weekend than we did in the previous race or last year," said Raikkonen, who has won two of the past three races, dating back to 2012. "If people think that we are leaders, it makes no difference to our work. What we did or what we're going to do this weekend or any other weekend. Like I said, we try to do best and hopefully we can score some good points."
Raikkonen has had success in Malaysia, winning in 2003. His victory last Sunday in Melbourne was the 20th of his career, becoming the 15th driver to achieve the landmark. Vettel took pole in the opening race and looked set to carry on his dominant form from last year. But the German failed to show the same pace during the race and deteriorating tires forced him to make three stops.
Red Bull blamed the relatively cool conditions in Australia, although why the team's tires disintegrated more quickly than other outfits remains a mystery. Vettel said a "miracle" is needed to fix the problem before the weekend. "We need to see if it will change here," Vettel said. "I think we will suffer high degradation. There are limited things you can do as a driver. Obviously, there are lots of things you can do to react to the problem but limited things you can do to prevent the problem."
Alonso is less concerned about the state of his car, saying it is in a much better place than when the two-time F1 champion qualified 12th in Australia last year and finished fifth in the race. The Spaniard was runner-up this year in Melbourne and is hoping to go one better in Malaysia and repeat his victory from last year. In a race stopped for 51 minutes due to the rain, it appeared Sergio Perez was about to overtake Alonso but the Mexican driver ran off the track with six laps to go to allow Ferrari to win. "We have more or less a competitive car and in Australia. Everything worked quite fine for us," Alonso said. "We showed a good potential, but the Australia circuit is strange and very unusual. This weekend is for us a little bit of a confirmation. We need to confirm the car is performing well after positive feelings in winter and Australia."
"I think the pace of the Lotus was very good but nothing we could not do. They had a very clean race with no traffic, with very good strategy. But the pace was nothing out of reach, so here we can fight a little bit closer."
Another F1 outfit expected to contend this year is McLaren, even though top driver Lewis Hamilton shifted to Mercedes in the offseason. The British-based team has 2009 champion Jenson Button and Perez in its two seats. McLaren is at a loss to understand why Button finished ninth and Perez 11th in Melbourne last Sunday. Button had won three of the previous four season-opening races in Australia. "For us at the moment, the important thing is to keep working and seeing what you can do," Button said. "I feel this weekend we're not going to be winning a grand prix, but I feel we can find a step forward. It's about developing as much as we can, as quick as we can. I don't know if we are very good at that."
Hamilton, on the other hand, is mildly surprised with his fifth-place finish in Australia and believes his car is capable of improving this weekend. He said he "just didn't dial the car properly" due the wet conditions in practice and qualifying, leading to "a lot of under-steering" that made it easy for Alonso and Raikkonen to pass him. "I didn't optimize the set-up in the car," he said. "I think there is more in it. I will try and show that this weekend."