Alonso seeks confirmation of Ferrari pace
A year ago, Fernando Alonso used all the guile of a double world champion to take full advantage of an early rain suspension and register an unlikely Malaysian Grand Prix win in his uncompetitive Ferrari.
This year, after an encouraging second-place finish to Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen in last week's season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the Spaniard has plenty of cause for optimism that he can get on the podium again.
"I think you cannot compare this week's race to last year, when we struggled to make Q3 (the third round of qualifying) and were nowhere near where we wanted to be," Alonso told reporters at Sepang on Thursday.
"This year, we are better in this aspect and have a competitive car. In Australia, everything worked fine for us and we showed good potential but it is a strange and unusual circuit there, so this weekend for us is a bit of confirmation.
"We need to confirm that the car is performing well. So after some positive feelings in Australia, this is a very real test for us and we are hoping for a clean weekend with a podium finish a very clear target for us to achieve."
Alonso started fifth on the grid at Albert Park but was soon in contention at the front after the Red Bulls of world champion Sebastian Vettel (third) and Mark Webber (sixth) were unable to convert their superior qualifying pace into race dominance.
"I think this grand prix is a very interesting race for many aspects. For us, it will be confirmation of our pace in Melbourne and it will also be a benchmark for other teams," Alonso added.
"For Red Bull, there was a big difference between race pace and qualifying pace. So for them it is also an important race to understand more about their car. Obviously, that is not our problem. We will try to do our best and see how we do."
Despite being unable to challenge Raikkonen in the latter stages of the Melbourne race, Alonso believes his Ferrari is more than a match for the Lotus, which he said had benefited from a perfect race.
"The pace of the Lotus was very good but nothing that we could not do," the Spaniard added.
"They had a clean race, with a good strategy and no traffic...but nothing out of reach. I believe we can fight a little closer this week."
The heat and humidity at Sepang makes the race a bigger endurance test than most grands prix but Alonso was quick to play down the significance of the intense conditions for the drivers.
"It's not a very big difference for us despite the outside temperatures here compared to Melbourne," he said.
"With the air coming into the cockpit at 300 kph you don't really feel the heat so much. It's more of a problem when you stop but during running, no big problem."