Friday's practice sessions at Sepang ahead of Sunday's F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia seemed to confirm that McLaren
are very much the team to beat once again. But who is best placed to take the fight to their doorstep?
"I think Mercedes AMG look very strong and I don't think we've seen the
best of Red Bull
Racing just yet," said McLaren
team principal Martin Whitmarsh of where he expected the threats to come from. "I think we're in for an exciting championship - a number of teams look extremely competitive and we're going to have another close race this weekend."
Red Bull, by their own standards, had something of a quiet day. Nothing went notably wrong for them, and Sebastian Vettel
finished the morning session second quickest - but he slipped back to tenth later in the day.
"I would love to be a bit higher up this afternoon, but all in all we had decent running today," said Vettel, adding that there was still a lot of work to get through. "I think we are sliding quite a bit and I would like the car to be a bit more stable," he added, putting it down to the tyre degradation that many teams were struggling with.
"We got through our whole program today, which was good," agreed his team mate Mark Webber. "We have plenty of work to go through regarding our car set up and the tyres."
"We made a good step today, the potential is there, but we need to get to it," added a resolute Vettel. "We will see what we can do tomorrow.”
Over at Mercedes, Michael Schumacher looked to be on the right lines after setting the fourth fastest time in the morning and improving to the runners-up spot in the afternoon.
"We had a good day on track today, and I am very happy about the work that has been done since Australia. This has enabled us to achieve reasonably consistent long runs," he said. But he was also remaining cautious about how much of Friday's performance would transfer to qualifying,
"We also know that everyone works on different programmes on Fridays, so I would guess we have not seen everything yet," he warned. "We are very much aware that we should not be too optimistic about today's outcome."