Encouraged by its all-round performance in the F1 season-opener last weekend in Melbourne, Ferrari is ready to carry its momentum into round two in Malaysia.
Although Fernando Alonso, who reaches his 200th race start at Sepang, could do little to prevent Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen from winning the Australian Grand Prix, the Spaniard's second place achieved Ferrari's first aim for the season, while team-mate Felipe Massa showed that he, too, could be a force for its rivals to reckon with as he took fourth place.
“The first grand prix weekend of the season in Australia was a positive one for us as we had previously stated that our objective was to finish on the podium and that target was achieved,” team principal Stefano Domenicali confirmed, “However, there is no room for complacency as nothing in terms of a pit-lane hierarchy is set in stone.
“We have witnessed a weekend that was very unusual, with qualifying on Saturday and Sunday delivering a snapshot of the order that proved to be completely different come Sunday evening after the race. But it was important to see both
our drivers deliver strong performances, as it provides a great basis on which we can build a competitive season. I'm pleased for both of them.”
With Lotus only backing up Raikkonen's win with tenth place for Romain Grosjean, McLaren struggling all-round and Red Bull slipping back from its front row lock-out, Ferrari heads the constructors' standings after the opening round, underlining Massa's contribution.
“Seeing Ferrari heading the constructors' championship is a great reward for the people who have been working so hard, both here at the track and back home in Maranello,” Domenicali added, “But it's only the first step in a very long season and now is the time to analyse and evaluate all the data from Melbourne in order to be immediately ready for this coming weekend in Malaysia.”
Whilst Massa will look to continue to form with which he ended the 2012 campaign, Alonso has another reason to look forward to the weekend, as his double century comes up at a circuit that has proven to be a happy hunting ground for the Spaniard. While the next couple of drivers ahead of him on the all-time appearance list are both Ferrari favourites – Jean Alesi and Alain Prost both started 202 races – Alonso will be hoping to celebrate his landmark with another strong result.
In the eleven races he has started at Sepang, the 2006-06 world champion has won three times, finished on the podium four times and claimed two pole positions. His third win at the venue came in dramatic fashion just a year ago, where he held off a charging Sergio Perez to give the difficult F2012 an unexpected victory in tricky conditions, as the traditional Malaysia rain played its part. On that occasion, the Spaniard started from eighth on the grid, the lowest position from which victory has been attained at Sepang.
Alonso has already declared that this year's F138 is 'night and day' different to its predecessor, and his result in Australia – which he claimed to be 'like a victory' after he beat reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel into third place – gives Ferrari optimism that there can be a repeat this weekend.
“We need to wait and see how our car will behave in what is a totally different environment,” Domenicali concluded, “The track will make different demands on the cars to the ones we experienced in Australia, with a change in track surface and the unique weather conditions, very hot and humid, will also impact on everyone's performance this weekend.
“We know what is required here and we will need the usual compromise in terms of downforce levels to deal with both the tighter section and the two long fast straights. Sepang is a very different track and our plan is to make the most of the package that we have.”