Fernando Alonso is confident that Ferrari was not out-paced by Lotus in Melbourne last weekend, but is hoping to get a better gauge on the relative performance of the F1 frontrunners from this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Spaniard came home second to Kimi Raikkonen – the man he replaced at Maranello – in the traditional season-opener 'down under', but remains convinced that the Finn's ability to run the race, run in cooler-than-expected conditions, on two sets of tyres helped mask the fact that their cars were evenly matched on pace.
"The pace of the Lotus was very good, but nothing that we could not do," Alonso told journalists on the eve of the Malaysian round, "They had a clean race, with a good strategy and no traffic, but [their performance was] nothing out of reach. I believe we can fight a little closer this week."
While Melbourne swapped its previous heatwave for more European conditions, with a lot of rain, over the weekend, the move to Malaysia would always have been something of a shock to the system, with its high temperatures and humidity levels. While the combination of conditions is rarely sampled anywhere else on the schedule, Alonso is convinced that Ferrari will be able to get a better read on the relative performance of the various front-running teams at Sepang than was possible in Melbourne.
“In Australia, everything worked fine for us, and we showed good potential, but it is a strange and unusual circuit there, so this weekend for us is [about] confirmation,” he opined, "I think this grand prix is a very interesting race for many aspects. For us, it will be confirmation of our pace in Melbourne and it will also be a benchmark for other teams.
"For Red Bull, there was a big difference between race pace and qualifying pace, so it is also an important race for them to understand more about their car. Obviously, that is not our problem. We will try to do our best and see how we do. We need to confirm that the car is performing well. After some positive feelings in Australia, this is a very real test for us and we are hoping for a clean weekend with a podium finish - a very clear target for us to achieve."
Alonso, of course, won last year's Malaysian Grand Prix, his third success at the Sepang circuit, despite the F2012 being far from the best car in the field. On that occasion, as may well be the case this year, some typically tropical rainfall caused confusion during the race – with proceedings being stopped as conditions deteriorated dramatically – before Alonso went on to resist the challenge of Sergio Perez's Sauber in the restarted affair.
The Spaniard, however, is quick to dismiss comparisons between 2012 and 2013, despite the possibility that this year's F138 could also prove to be a racewinner.
"You cannot compare this week's race to last year, when we struggled to make Q3 and were nowhere near where we wanted to be," he insisted, "This year, we are better in this respect and have a competitive car.”