Button, Alesi expect Lotus to shine in Malaysia

Two experts have tipped Lotus to shine this weekend at Sepang, Malaysia. The black and gold E20 car was a standout of the winter pre-season, but Kimi Raikkonen qualified poorly in Australia while Romain Grosjean was punted into early retirement by Pastor Maldonado.

Seeing the chequered flag first in Melbourne was McLaren’s championship leader Jenson Button, but he said he is expecting a “strong fight” this weekend.

“Of course we’re not relaxing,” said the Briton. “Both Red Bull drivers were very quick in the race (in Australia), and I think we can expect further strong challenges (in Malaysia) from Mercedes and Lotus.”

Also anticipating a Malaysian push by Lotus is team ambassador Jean Alesi, the former Ferrari race winner.

“The car should suit Sepang well,” said the Frenchman. “In testing in Jerez and Barcelona it was particularly good in the fast turns, which is what defines the Malaysia track. Lotus appear to be quicker than everyone except McLaren.”

He is worried, however, that the former Renault team might not be able to keep up its pace throughout 2012.

“Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari have much bigger budgets,” said Alesi. “They have a brilliant team at Enstone but it is really tough to match the development pace of the biggest teams, and I think that will be Lotus’ challenge this year.”