Mar.21 (Reuters) Lewis Hamilton aims to set the record straight in Malaysia this weekend after a morale-boosting debrief with his McLaren race engineers.
The 2008 F1 champion qualified on pole position for the Australian season-opener last Sunday but was unusually slow off the mark and beaten into the first corner by team mate Jenson Button, who went on to win.
Hamilton, who finished third, had been baffled by his lack of pace and his unhappiness was evident afterwards.
“It was difficult to understand exactly what happened,” he said on Wednesday. “Afterwards I sat down with my engineers and we went through all the data.
“There was a small issue with the clutch at the start. It wasn’t my fault. But we now understand and know how to improve in the future.
“It’s encouraging and reassuring to understand the reasons for our race pace in Australia and it puts me in a really positive frame of mind,” added the Briton.
McLaren locked out the front row in Melbourne, with 2009 champion Button also setting the fastest race lap, and are eager to deny Red Bull’s double champion Sebastian Vettel a Sepang hat-trick.
Red Bull struggled in qualifying at Albert Park but were more competitive in the race with Vettel working his way up from sixth on the grid to take second place after the safety car worked against Hamilton.
Vettel and Australian team mate Mark Webber showed they were competitive but McLaren reckon their new car will be even more at home at the Malaysian track than it was at Melbourne.
Button won there in 2009 with Brawn and was second last season, while Hamilton started in second place but finished eighth after a post-race demotion.
“If you looked closely at our in testing at Barcelona, we were pretty good in the high-speed corners,” team principal Martin Whitmarsh said.
“We looked like we were quickest in those corners and, if anything, Red Bull was beating us in (low speed) traction areas,” he added.
“It (Sepang) is a high-speed track and, based on our performance, we should believe we are going to be quite quick there. I think we do fancy our chances, but who knows? Let’s see how we go.”
Vettel had all the tools he needed to dominate last season’s championship and Red Bull boss Christian Horner saw no reason why his drivers could not mount a serious challenge this weekend.
“We knew from winter testing that McLaren were competitive but our race pace was every bit the equal of theirs,” he said. “Malaysia is a very different prospect from Australia.”
McLaren and Red Bull could be joined by Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes, whose rear wing has generated early-season controversy, in the battle for the podium but Ferrari can expect more struggle with their new car.
Double world champion Fernando Alonso drove it brilliantly to fifth place in Melbourne from 12th on the starting grid but he cannot perform miracles.
“In Malaysia, we will once again be racing on the defensive,” Alonso said on Ferrari’s website.
“There’s no other way we can go about it, given that the F2012 is practically identical to what we ran in Australia. We will have to try and adapt it as well as possible, knowing it won’t be easy.”
That could open up an opportunity for Lotus, buoyed by returning former Ferrari driver and 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, to fight for the big points.
However, the weather at Sepang can be notoriously difficult to predict and a repeat of the 2009 event, which Button won after torrential rain ended the race after 31 of the 56 scheduled laps, should not be ruled out.
“At the moment, the forecast is for a high chance of rain, both for qualifying and the race, but honestly, I don’t have much faith in the forecast,” Alonso said.
“The only thing you can be absolutely certain of is that it will be hot, very hot.”