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Ferrari on a high for Malaysia

Ferrari heads into this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix leading the drivers' and constructors' championships and with their confidence sky-high and rebuilt after last year's misery.

Fernando Alonso leads teammate Felipe Massa by four points after two rounds of the world drivers' championship and Ferrari is ahead of chief rivals McLaren-Mercedes in the constructors' rankings.

The Italian team endured its worst start to a season in history in 2009 finishing in fourth place behind winners Brawn, Red Bull and McLaren for their lowest season finish since 1993.

In Sunday's Australian GP Massa finished third and Alonso fourth behind runaway McLaren winner Jenson Button, with Renault's Robert Kubica second.

Malaysia's Sepang track represents different and challenging conditions after the dry heat of Bahrain and the changeable weather of Melbourne's street circuit.

Team principal Stefano Domenicali praised the efforts of his two drivers in Australia, but warned of new challenges in steamy Malaysia.

"Our strongest competitors at the moment picked up just a few points in Melbourne and even when compared to the other drivers, we have extended our lead," he said. "Now we must remain focused and prepare as well as possible for next week's race in Malaysia where we will again find different conditions to those we have experienced in the first two grands prix." 

Button, thrilled with his first victory in his second race as a McLaren driver, said he was looking to carry on the momentum in Malaysia.

"It's crucial to get the big points when perhaps we don't have the out-and-out pace: these are really important points to us," Button said. "Now we've really got to get our heads down and hopefully turn up in Malaysia next week with an even better car." 

"We leave Albert Park hugely encouraged by the pace we were able to demonstrate, and we head to Malaysia keen to maintain that momentum," said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh.

Malaysia also offers Red Bull-Renault the chance to redeem itself after wasting promising opportunities in both Bahrain and Melbourne.

Sebastian Vettel blamed "reliability issues" with his Red Bull-Renault for again costing him victory in Australia on Sunday. The 22-year-old German, who had the fastest car in qualifying and led the field up until lap 26 of the Melbourne race, encountered brake problems that ended his race prematurely. It was a repeat of Vettel's drive in the season-opening Bahrain GP a fortnight ago when he also started from pole and led for 34 laps before he suffered mechanical problems and had to settle for fourth.

"We're working hard to get on top of the reliability issues and we hope to have a solid race and see the chequered flag in Malaysia next week," he said.

Teammate Mark Webber, who once again missed out on winning his home GP at the ninth attempt, is another looking for improved results around Sepang. Webber had to apologise to 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton for punting the McLaren driver off the track on the penultimate lap.

By Robert Smith - Sapa-AFP

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