Sebastian Vettel is 'the biggest threat' in the F1 2010 World Championship, claims countryman Michael Schumacher, with the Red Bull Racing star having proven devastatingly fast but equally desperately unlucky in the opening two grands prix of the campaign in Bahrain and Australia - but he is more concerned about performance than reliability looking forwards.

Vettel set pole position in both Sakhir and Melbourne last month, and was on-course for a brace of commandingly impressive victories too, until a spark plug failure in the former and suspected wheel-fixing failure in the latter denied him glory on each occasion, and means he arrived in Sepang for this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix with just twelve points to his name and sitting only seventh in the drivers' standings, when he could quite feasibly have had 50 and been atop the title chase by a comfortable margin.

With the Adrian Newey-designed, Renault-powered Red Bull Racing RB6 by common consent the quickest thing on the grid right now, though, Vettel might be down but he is far from out - and, F1 returnee Schumacher opines, still very much in contention for the crown.

"If you ask me about a rival who stands out, it is him," the record-breaking seven-time world champion is quoted as having said by The Independent. "If you look at the car he has and the way he's driving, he is the driver who is going to be the biggest threat. Of course he didn't have luck in the first two races - but if it went right, he would have won both."

With 25 points for a win now rather than ten, and an increased points disparity this year between first and second place and so forth, it is easy to see how any ground conceded through failing to score could turn out to be costly. Austrian grand prix legend Niki Lauda has already expressed his outspoken opinion that 'there must be consequences' for Red Bull's early failures and that the energy drinks-backed outfit can already 'forget the title' [see separate story - click here].

However, whilst Vettel insists he remains confident in his team's ability to fix the issues that have plagued his challenge thus far, the sport's youngest-ever winner has revealed a rather more pressing anxiety regarding a new FIA ruling on the contentious, visibility-restricting sidepod-positioned rearview mirrors - blamed for the first corner coming-together between Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button in Albert Park last weekend that pitched the Ferrari into a spin [see separate story - click here].

"We are much more concerned that from the next race, in China, we'll all have to run the mirrors in-board," the 22-year-old explained in an interview with the official F1 website. "Our car is losing quite some performance due to that - but reliability, no problems. We have a good group of people and I don't think there's one weak department causing all the problems.

"The failures were very, very seldom, but that's life and that's racing. For sure it's not good, and if you want to fight for the championship it's better not to have those kind of things, but on the other hand we are just two races into the season and there are so many races left. It's not a big deal. Would, could, should is so nice but it didn't happen.

"In the end, there are a lot of positives we can take from the first two races. We have a very strong car in qualifying and race conditions. For various reasons we didn't finish. For sure, at the moment it's frustrating and the whole team you could see was down - but coming here only a week later we are happy again and looking forward to this race. What happened in Bahrain and Melbourne happened - it's history and we can't change it now."

McLaren-Mercedes Jenson Button, who swept to a supremely skilled triumph Down Under after Vettel fell out of contention, admitted that he had some sympathy for his rival's unfortunate plight - even if the defending world champion hopes to take the fight to the early-season pace-setter in out-and-out performance terms in the not-too distant future.

"He's in a strange situation," the Frome-born ace acknowledged. "He will be disappointed that his car isn't reliable, because taking pole position and leading races is a great feeling until the car breaks. In the last two races the Red Bull has had an advantage over the Ferrari, which has an advantage over us, in qualifying - but as we showed in Australia, our race pace is pretty close.

"Winning there has really given the people at the factory a push, and that makes it very special for us. If we can keep nibbling away at that advantage that Red Bull and Ferrari have, then we are going to be on them pretty quickly."

Button's first opportunity to do so, of course, is in Sepang this weekend, where last year he ascended the top step of the rostrum after monsoon-like rainfall midway through brought a premature end to proceedings on safety grounds, with drivers almost unanimously reporting their cars to be undriveable in the torrential downpour. The 2010 edition is due to begin an hour earlier in an effort to avoid a repeat - but the weather predictions do not look promising, with heavy rain once more late on Thursday afternoon.

"This feels exactly like the weather we had in 2009!" Button quipped. "That was pretty horrendous, but if it rains at the same stage this year we will have covered 75 per cent of the race. If we'd done that last year I would have earned ten instead of five points and it would have made my life much easier! The boys told me to come round to the pits and stop last year - but even at 10mph my car was sliding around so much that I told them I couldn't be sure of making it."


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