With one race down out of twenty, F1 teams are now hopping from Australia to Malaysia where the new pecking-order will be immediately tested on a more conventional circuit.
Some paddock cynics suspect McLaren – having dominated qualifying in Melbourne before Jenson Button cruised to victory – played a deft hand of bluff in the winter season in order to persuade Red Bull its former dominance remained intact. New 2012 championship leader Button, however, insists the British team was surprised in Australia.
“It wasn’t bullsh** at all,” he said late on Sunday. “I actually did pinch myself in the race just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. After qualifying I looked across at Lewis and said ‘Did you think we would be that quick?’, and he was like ‘No’.”
Another possibility is that, while quick, McLaren may not be dominant.
“We knew from winter testing that McLaren were competitive but I think our race pace was every bit the equal of theirs today,” said Red Bull’s team boss Christian Horner, after a betting showing for the reigning champions on Sunday compared to qualifying. Malaysia is a very different prospect from here. Here it is short turns, bumpy, not a lot of high-speed corners.
“But Malaysia offers that variant, so I think it will be interesting to see how quick they are in Malaysia.”
Mark Webber was also relieved on Sunday, after a troubled earlier evening.
“It’s never nice to know you might be out of the ball game,” said the Australian, referring to Red Bull’s qualifying performance, “but clearly we are not.”
Yet another possibility is that McLaren will extend their winning streak into Malaysia.
“The Barcelona test showed us that we are better than Red Bull in the fast corners. Their (Red Bull’s) advantage is in traction,” McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh is quoted by Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.
Agreed Mercedes’ Ross Brawn: “We could see that the McLaren improved significantly with the introduction of their new aerodynamic specification in Barcelona.”
But the German team’s Norbert Haug warned before leaving Melbourne: “We could see something quite different in Malaysia.”
Livio Oricchio, the correspondent for Brazil’s O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, agreed: “It is prudent to wait and see what happens now in Malaysia.
“It’s a permanent circuit, much more in line with most of the circuits on the calendar. But it seems unlikely that we will see something radically different to what we saw in Australia.”