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Pre-Malaysia analysis - all to play for at Sepang 22 Mar 2013

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F138.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 15 March 2013 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Wednesday, 20 March 2013 Lotus mechanics with Lotus E21 floor.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013

Fernando Alonso firmly believes that Ferrari can hit back and match Melbourne victors Lotus in the Malaysian race this weekend.

The 31 year-old Spaniard will take part in his 200th Grand Prix weekend in Sepang, and is determined to repeat last year’s sensational result when he took control in the rain to win from Sauber upstart Sergio Perez.

Alonso said on Thursday that he was not at all perturbed by Kimi Raikkonen’s ability to make only two stops in Melbourne, where he and fellow frontrunner for Red Bull Sebastian Vettel had to make three. More stops are expected here due to the humidity and high track and ambient temperatures, unless it turns out to be a wet race once more.

"I think the pace of the Lotus was very good, but nothing that we could not do," he said. "They had a very clean race, with no traffic and a very good strategy but the pace was nothing out of reach. Here we can fight a little bit closer."

Like many, Alonso believes a truer picture of the 2013 pecking order will start to emerge this weekend, though it is not expected to be definitive.

"We have a more or less competitive car, in Australia everything worked quite fine for us," he said. "But Australia's circuit is a very strange and very unusual circuit. Sepang is for us a little bit of a confirmation. We need to confirm the car is performing well after some positive feelings in winter and some positive feelings in Australia. This is a very real test for us and again a podium will be a very good target to achieve."

Lotus, meanwhile, are confident that they can stay at the front. Like McLaren in particular, who are desperate to improve things for Jenson Button and Perez after their disastrous start in Australia, they will have brought updates.

"We have some developments coming which is good news,” Lotus team principal Eric Boullier said, “and the hot temperature should normally help us do an even better job. Of course, Red Bull will also be in better shape as well, but let’s see. We didn't have a normal weekend in Australia. It was a strange one where everyone struggled to set their cars up well, especially for the race.”

McLaren have new developments here. “One line is normal development that would have come anyway,” sporting director Sam Michael explained, “and then we have some experimental stuff to work through on tyre degradation. Whether that will resolve the problems in terms of our competitiveness I really can't tell you, because I don't know yet."

McLaren insist they will push ahead with the new car rather than revert to last year’s race-winning MP4-27.

"All our energy is going into the current car and understanding it," Michael said. "The worst thing is when you don't have an idea of the areas you need to work in; we have a pretty good idea of where we need to work.”

Button said that he would prefer a wet race, but that in any case Sepang’s smooth surface will definitely help by enabling McLaren to run a lower ride height than was forced upon them by the bumps in Albert Park. “That should allow us to put the car where it works better on the ride height curve. Doing that can change the tyre wear and degradation so much, so maybe we can turn on the car here if we can get that right.”

Meanwhile, his former team mate Lewis Hamilton is excited about his prospects and believes Mercedes can spring a surprise by focusing more on race set-up. “I really think that we can go a lot better than we did in Australia,” he said. “This track should suit our car and there are things that we understand better about it.

“We did something with the supersoft compound tyres last week which put the car more into understeer and unfortunately when we made the change to new tyres it went too far the other way. So I went from massive understeer to massive oversteer. We just generally struggled with the balance.

“We didn't spend a lot of Friday setting up the car because we were testing a lot of components - which was perhaps the wrong way to go. This weekend we’re going to make sure that we focus on the set-up so that we get that right."

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