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Hamilton up for the fight at F1 Malaysian GP

March 27, 2014

SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) — Nico Rosberg may be the Formula One championship leader but Lewis Hamilton remains the bookmakers’ favorite to win the title, and the Briton said Thursday that he is relishing the chance to get the better of his Mercedes teammate at this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Rosberg won the season opener in Australia while Hamilton retired early with engine trouble, putting an early 25-point gap between the pair who are expected to fight for the drivers’ championship.

“There is a huge deficit,” Hamilton said Thursday. “When you lose 25 points, that’s a serious deficit to make up. But from one race, one DNF (did not finish) you can gain a large amount.

“I quite like to chase, so maybe it’s done me a favor.”

Rosberg, who this weekend is aiming to match his father Keke with a fifth F1 victory, readily acknowledged that Mercedes will again be the team to beat at the Sepang circuit on Sunday.

“The chances are we will be at the front,” Rosberg said. “For sure, it will be possible to get another great result here.

“We look to be the quickest at the moment which is fantastic but we need to be careful with that — the opposition is not asleep, they’re pushing like crazy.”

Chief among that opposition is Red Bull, which is in the curious situation of being buoyed by its performance in Melbourne despite leaving Albert Park with zero points.

Reigning four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel retired early with engine trouble, while new teammate Daniel Ricciardo crossed the line second but was later disqualified because the team was found to have exceeded fuel-flow limits. The team has appealed that ruling.

The performance of the car surprised the team, which was bracing for worse after a preseason riddled with technical problems, and Vettel said the team can build on that at Sepang, where Red Bull has claimed three of the past four wins and pole positions.

However the German knew he may well need some assistance from the elements to build on that history.

“Anything is possible here,” Vettel said. “I wouldn’t mind some rain because Daniel showed the car was quick in the wet in Melbourne.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix looms as a test of engine reliability. While the naysayers in Australia were proven wrong about the unreliability of the new V6 turbo hybrid engines, with two thirds of the field finishing the race, the intense heat and humidity at Sepang, coupled with the two long straights, will put much more stress on the powertrains.

“Reliability is going to be put to the real test this weekend for everyone because it’s so hot and the engine will be put to the absolute test,” Hamilton said.

Jenson Button, whose McLaren team is the surprise early leader in the constructors’ championship after being promoted to second and third places in Melbourne following Ricciardo’s expulsion, agreed that reliability will be at a premium this weekend.

“It’s super hot and a tough circuit on the cars,” Button said. “You would say we are fighting for a podium really, and you never know what will happen with Mercedes and their reliability.”

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