McLaren confident of taming Red Bull in Malaysian heat

By Sarah HoltBBC Sport in Malaysia

McLaren are confident they can rival Red Bull in Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix at the demanding Sepang circuit.

Lewis Hamilton was second to Sebastian Vettel's dominant Red Bull in Australia two weeks ago while team-mate Jenson Button was sixth after being penalised.

"We have more upgrades here which will give us more lap time [pace] and better consistency," said Button.

Hamilton added: "I know we'll be competitive. I'm hoping we've closed the gap a bit more."

At Melbourne's season-opener, Red Bull served their rivals with an ominous warning of things to come as Vettel took pole a startling 0.8 seconds clear of Hamilton's McLaren.

The world champion underlined his intent to defend his crown by clinching a dominant win ahead of Hamilton and Renault's Vitaly Petrov.

Malaysia's fast-and-flowing Sepang circuit should also play to Red Bull's strengths but the hot, humid and often rainy conditions - under which 2011's Pirelli tyres have yet to be tested - means there are still plenty of variables to upset form.

"We'll see a different race mostly because of the tyres in hot temperatures," predicted Button, who won at Sepang for Brawn on his way to the 2009 championship.

"We were surprised by how consistent the Pirellis were in the first race, but Sepang is a lot more demanding and tough on the four things that are touching the road.

"There's a lot to come into play here which will add another element into [the racing]."

Hamilton agreed it was difficult to make predictions about what lies ahead in the second race weekend of the season.

"We might have to rely on very good strategic plans," said Hamilton, whose best result in Malaysia was second in his debut 2007 season.

"The tyres might react differently to the temperatures here and the worrying thing is that we only have three sets of wet tyres and the intermediates don't last long. So it will be difficult to balance it during qualifying and the race.

"It turned four o'clock here and it poured down, it was miserable, and that's when qualifying and the race begins.

"We also have to assume that everyone is coming here with some more improvements - but I know we'll be competitive."

Hamilton hung on to second place in Melbourne despite his McLaren crossing the line with a broken undertray and floor, and the 2008 champion is taking encouragement from his performance against Vettel.

"My car was damaged but I was able to compete similar times with Vettel," said Hamilton, who was again the subject of speculation this week linking him to a Red Bull drive.

"I reckon I had the pace of him at least throughout the race if not a little bit quicker."

Red Bull will be confident they can carry forward their momentum from Australia as the champions return to the track where Vettel took his first victory of 2010 ahead of team-mate Mark Webber.

But Webber, who finished fifth in Australia, is cautious about talking up Red Bull before the cars hit the track for Friday practice at 0300 BST.

The Australian was keeping his cards close to the chest, saying: "Will we win? I don't know.

"The car has been pretty competitive at every grand prix for the last two years so I'd imagine we'd be pretty competitive this weekend.

"We did well here last year, the car just won the last grand prix and so we'll see.

"It's pretty brutal on the track temperatures, so that will be interesting for the tyres; no one knows how that will unfold. This is probably the most extreme situation [Pirelli] have faced so far."

Vettel, meanwhile, said he was confident that the higher track temperatures expected would not trouble Red Bull unduly.

"It's not a worry," he told Autosportexternal-link. "This is a completely different track with different characteristics and different demands on the tyres and the cars.

"In Australia, we had no problem with getting the tyres into the right window. We're not afraid that now there will be a shift and we will be outside of this window. But in the case that we are, we will find out tomorrow and have to work around it.

"We are not concerned."

Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, who finished fourth in Australia, is hoping that the season-opener was an anomaly in terms of the Italian team's pace and performance.

"Melbourne is a very special circuit and a very special lay-out and we see sometimes that performance there is difficult to repeat during the season," said the Spaniard.

"So we'll see if that is the real pace of our car. From investigation this week into the performance in Melbourne, we understand that we want to improve the car.

"But I think we need to wait also to see in the next two or three races how it goes and to confirm that what we saw in Melbourne was the real picture.

"We understand we need to keep working and improving the car."

The drivers have two practice sessions on Friday - one at 0300 BST and a second at 0700 BST - to gain the first impressions of their prospects in Malaysia.

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