The McLaren team heads for this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix confident that it can again be in the hunt for both pole position and race victory, despite acknowledging that main rival Red Bull Racing is far from out of the picture.

After locking out the front row at Australian GP qualifying with Lewis Hamilton on pole, a securing a 1-3 result in the race with Jenson Button taking the win, the Woking team made its strongest start to a season for some time, and technical director Paddy Lowe is optimistic that, with the MP4-27 having performed well at both Jerez and Barcelona in pre-season testing, the pattern can continue at Sepang.

"The car has got good all-round performance," he told the BBC, "Malaysia will be interesting, but I'm not feeling too worried about the fact it is a different circuit characteristic to this one. Our performance in Barcelona was quite encouraging in that aspect, Barcelona being a classic, high-speed downforce circuit."

Having been beaten 18-1 by Red Bull in qualifying last season, Lowe was particularly pleased to get one over the Milton Keynes team so early in the 2012 campaign.

"I think the qualifying result is the most pleasing at this point because that is indicative of your qualifying pace, which is what you use to establish race wins and control from the front," he claimed, knowing that the supposedly slower RB7 made the most of Sebastian Vettel's record haul of pole positions to establish early race advantages in 2011

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh also acknowledged that Button and Hamilton were in a stronger position than a year ago thanks to the car being competitive from the opening round. Although he admitted that the season would undoubtedly be decided by which team managed to develop their machine the best, being on top of the pile in Australia was a good starting point.

"We are starting from the right place," Whitmarsh emphasised to Sky Sports, "We know we have to improve the car on a race-by-race basis, but we've some formidable competitors in Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Lotus look strong as well. It is pretty tight, as it should be. This is F1. It should be difficult to win, and it is. But we're already looking forward to [Malaysia]. We do fancy our chances there, but who knows. Let's see how we go."

Red Bull, meanwhile, insisted that it was ready to take the fight to McLaren at Sepang, having been boosted by its race pace as Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber came from row three to finish second and fourth respectively in Melbourne.

"That gave us a lot of confidence," team principal Christian Horner claimed, "On a sample of one, it looks close. We knew from winter testing McLaren were competitive; we've seen that this weekend, [but] I think our race pace was every bit equal with them. Neither of the drivers has been totally happy with their cars here, [and] we know where we need to improve. We have plenty of things in the pipeline, so we take an awful lot of positives from a podium and a fourth-place finish."


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