Impressive but unlucky so far this season, Sebastian Vettel is the man to watch out for this weekend. That's the view of Michael Schumacher, who believes his compatriot should have already won two races this season.
"If you ask me about a rival who stands out, it is him," Schumacher said. "If you look at the car he has and the way he's driving, he is the driver who's going to be the biggest threat. Of course he didn't have luck in the first two races. But if it went right, he would have won both."
Vettel lost the Bahrain GP because of a faulty spark plug, and the Australian race because of a suspected wheel fixing problem, both times after leading from pole position. But he said yesterday that he has no worries about his Red Bull's reliability and was more worried about a new clarification on the rules governing siting of the rear-view mirrors. "We are much more concerned that from the next race, in China, we'll all have to run the mirrors inboard and our car is losing quite some performance due to that," Vettel said. "But reliability, no problems."
"He's in a strange situation," Jenson Button, who expects McLaren to be competing for victory this weekend, said of his rival. "He will be disappointed that his car isn't reliable, because taking pole position and leading races is a great feeling until the car breaks. In the last two races the Red Bull has had an advantage over the Ferrari, which has an advantage over us, in qualifying. But as we showed in Australia, our race pace is pretty close.
"It's really given the people at the factory a push, winning there, and that makes it very special for us. If we can keep nibbling away at that advantage that Red Bull and Ferrari have, then we are going to be on them pretty quickly."
Button won last year's rain-spoiled race after a monsoon began before half-distance. This year the race will start an hour earlier to try to avoid the wettest time of the day. As very heavy rain fell at twenty minutes past five here last night, Button added: "This feels exactly like the weather we had in 2009! That was pretty horrendous, but if it rains at the same stage this year we will have covered 75 per cent of the race. If we'd done that last year I would have earned 10 instead of five points and it would have made my life much easier!"
Button, in common with team-mate Lewis Hamilton, Vettel and Fernando Alonso, said that their cars were undriveable in torrential rain. "The boys told me to come round to the pits and stop last year," the world champion said. "But even at 10 mph my car was sliding around so much that I told them I couldn't be sure of making it."
All of the drivers would rather have a dry race, notwithstanding the fact that the shower before the start in Melbourne made the race far more interesting than the season opener in Bahrain. But Button said that he did not agree with Alonso's suggestion that there has not been any overtaking in Formula One for the last twenty years and that people seeking it should look elsewhere for their thrills.
"I agree with Fernando when he says that we are driving missiles and that much of F1's charm lies in that," Button said, "but I disagree with his comment that there hasn't been any overtaking. I think there was quite a lot last year, and in Melbourne.
"This is a track here on which you can overtake, because you can race and fight it out. The circuit flows nicely, and there are two nice long straights and a couple of slow corners leading on to them, which is what you want.
"If you have overtaking on every corner it would be boring, but as it is when you see a move in F1 you respect it because you know how difficult it is."