Despite his comfortable victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Jenson Button is expecting the likes of Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus to provide stiff opposition in this weekend's Malaysian follow-up.
The Briton, who converted second on the grid into a lights-to-flag success, heads to Sepang confident that his McLaren can again be the car to beat but, with the opening round always providing an off-beat guide to frontrunning pace, is to experienced to write off the likes of Sebastian Vettel when it comes to round two, especially after Red Bull put a disappointing Melbourne qualifying behind it to emerge as his closest challengers on raceday.
“As we said repeatedly throughout last year, and we saw time and again with Sebastian, if you can qualify strongly and get away cleanly then it's much easier to control the field, to race cleanly and to get a representative result," he said of his run to glory in Australia, “However, I think the race showed that there are several top teams in F1, and I think we can expect them to be fighting for victory in Malaysia.
"Both Red Bull drivers were very quick in the race, and I think we can expect further strong challenges from Mercedes AMG and Lotus this weekend. Of course, we're not relaxing, and we go to Malaysia ready for a strong fight.”
Although McLaren annexed the front row in Melbourne, with team-mate Lewis Hamilton claiming the first pole of the season, Button insists that he had not headed 'down under' expecting the MP4-27 to be the best car in the field. However, claiming all 25 points fills him with optimism for forthcoming race weekends.
“After the race, people asked me if we'd expected to demonstrate the pace that we did in Australia, and I tell them that it was unexpected," the 2009 world champion claimed, "Of course, we'd done our sums after winter testing, but you can never be certain whether another team is running with high-fuel or hiding their true pace. So to come away from race one with such a positive result is a huge relief for the [McLaren] organisation.
"It's also incredibly motivating - we know we have a great car, but we're not going to sit still with it. We have ambitious plans to develop the car and I know that everybody back at Woking is working hard to bring new components to the track, and that all our mechanics and engineers are flat-out to ensure that we maximise the package that we have this weekend.
"I think everybody knows that we are a relentless organisation. We can develop a car as well as – if not better than – any other team. The difference this year is that we've started with a winning package, so the challenge will be to maintain that, and I know that's something we're all really looking forward to doing.”
Button already has experience of winning in Malaysia, claiming victory there en route
to his 2009 championship success, having already taken the first of his three Australian GP wins. In common with many of his rivals, the Briton professes to enjoy the Sepang circuit, and is looking forward to driving the MP4-27 there this weekend.
"It's more of a high-speed circuit [than Melbourne], there are some fantastic sweeping corners there and, if the car's working properly, it's a real joy to drive," he explained, "It's one of the toughest circuits on the calendar because there's a real range of corners, cambers, a couple of blind apexes and a little bit of gradient. If the car's working against you, then it becomes painful, but, when it's all switched on, it's just a great, great circuit to drive.
“I think we've got a car that really works well in the high-speed stuff – we saw that throughout winter testing - so I think the challenge this weekend will be to find the right balance. At this stage in the year, you're still learning about the car and how to get the best from it, but I think the engineers understand how
our car is strong, and I know they're really looking forward to extracting the maximum from it in Sepang this weekend.”