SEPANG, Malaysia (Reuters) - McLaren duo Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen believe a lack of pace will not stop them vying for more podium spots on Malaysia’s notoriously fast track after promising shows at the season-opener in Australia.
The two drivers were promoted to second and third in Melbourne two weeks ago after the disqualification of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, putting the team on top of the constructors standings.
However, the paddock was united in its belief on Thursday that the Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg, who won the Albert Park race, and Lewis Hamilton, who was on pole before retiring, were ahead of the rest as the grid gets used to the new V6 engines.
“I think the two guys in the Mercedes, it’s going to be easy for them in terms of how competitive they’ll be compared to the rest,” Button told reporters at the Sepang circuit.
“Everyone else behind I think is fighting for third. I think there’s a big gaggle of cars that are very close in lap times and probably in race pace as well.”
The 2009 world champion acknowledged the quick Sepang track was probably not best suited to their Mercedes-powered car but was confident that new upgrades for Sunday’s race would help.
“This is a high-speed circuit compared to Melbourne. That’s an area where we’re not at our strongest so that does hurt us a little bit,” Button said.
”The low-speed corners I think we are going to be stronger at this race which is good. It’s where a lot of the lap time is made up because you’re in the corner for longer.
“You’d say it would be a bit more difficult here but with the upgrades we have we have to be fighting for a podium,” added Button.
“I‘m pretty positive about the direction we’re taking with the car and hopefully we can keep bringing stuff to every race. The only way we’re going to catch Mercedes is if we’re developing every race we go to.”
Button attempted to heap the pressure on former McLaren team mate Hamilton, saying it was vital Mercedes made the most of their early advantage with the gap sure to close later in the season.
“The only thing you can hope for here is reliability issues. It’s super hot. It’s a tough circuit on the car,” said Button who won the 2009 Malaysian race.
“You’d say that we’re fighting for a podium really and then just never know what’s going to happen to the Mercedes. (If they have) reliability issues then we’ll get a better result than that.”
Danish team mate Magnussen became Formula One’s most successful debutant since Canadian Jacques Villeneuve in 1996 after his second place in Melbourne.
However, the 21-year-old spoke like an old pro when he said there was little time to celebrate.
“I‘m not getting carried away with the result we had in Australia. As a team we got the most out of what we had and we can feel really proud of that,” said Magnussen.
”We are not in the situation we want to be. We have to keep pushing and the good thing is I can feel everyone in the team is on the same track.
“We all are pushing flat out to try and get where we want to be. We will close it (the gap on Mercedes) at some point. When? I don’t know.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez