While Lewis Hamilton bubbles with enthusiasm for his chances in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, former team-mate Jenson Button simply has his fingers crossed that a raft of changes to his McLaren might generate the miracle that he needs to get back in the hunt after a hugely disappointing first race of the season.
“I really think that we can go a lot better than we did in Australia,” said Hamilton, who qualified his Mercedes a competitive third but then finished fifth as Lotus, Ferrari and Red Bull demonstrated slightly superior race pace in Melbourne last week.
“I came away with 10 points and I feel really happy with that. When I did the switch [from McLaren] I didn’t know where we would be and I definitely didn’t think I would come away from the first race with 10 points – and also with the feeling that it is not just going to be a lucky shot in the first race.”
After seeing Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel finish on the podium in Melbourne, it remains to be seen whether Hamilton’s Mercedes can challenge in Malaysia. However, the 2008 world champion appears much more relaxed than he has been for a while and has clearly settled in extremely quickly with his new team.
“I feel positive about the car, and really positive about the team,” he said. “They are moving very, very fast in terms of developing the car and how I like to work, and I think I am learning quite quickly how they like to work. Of course we could have done things better, but it was our first race together and no matter how much you prepare for it, you cannot prepare perfectly.
“All the other top teams are really good at developing the car and moving forward very fast. That’s something the team are ready to do, so hopefully that shines this weekend.”
Button, by contrast, never dreamed that he would leave Australia with only two points after finishing a disappointing ninth, with McLaren team-mate Sergio Perez two places further back. New technical director Tim Goss – who worked with Button during his world championship winning season with Brawn in 2009 – has been brought in to replace Mercedes-bound Paddy Lowe although Button is not expecting any miracles in Sepang.
“We don’t really know enough about the car yet so it’s going to be another tough weekend ” he admitted. “But this is a circuit where we are a little bit lucky in terms of the bumpiness. It’s a lot smoother than the last race, which should help us quite a bit. In Melbourne we were hitting the ground so hard [with the bottom of the car] that we would have damaged the plank beneath it.”
After Hamilton and Button returned 40 points at Albert Park last season by finishing first and third, it has been a difficult week of soul-searching for their team of that time, McLaren. Yet team principal Martin Whitmarsh, whose future with the team could be in doubt if things do not improve, remains confident that several new developments will ensure they can be competitive and ruled out the possibility they could switch to last year’s car instead.
“All our efforts are currently focused on understanding this year’s car, not considering last year’s car,” he said. “At the moment we have to work hard on this car. We know it has got some areas of high potential and we know it has potentially more downforce than last year’s car.
“We just need to understand it and make sure [the performance] is accessible. We believe in what we can do as a team. I am sure we are going to get there. It probably won’t get there as quickly as I would like it to, but I will be encouraging them to do so.”
Meanwhile, Raikkonen believes that Lotus are in a good position to repeat their success in Melbourne thanks to some updates the team have brought to Malaysia.
“Last year we were pretty good when it was hot and actually it was better for us,” he said, “but obviously we haven’t run in these kind of conditions and the winter has been very cold, so I have no idea. If it’s anything like it was last year we should be okay, but we have to wait and see how it goes.”
Lotus technical director James Allison backed his driver’s chances. He said: “In Australia he drove a clever race in the way he controlled the pace and got the best out of the car.”