x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Alonso is stunned by his 'incredible start' to the season

The former double world champion and the initial leader did not expect to be ahead after two races and is happy with the car.

No one is more surprised than Fernando Alonso that he is leading the world drivers' championship going into Sunday's third round of the Formula One season in Malaysia. The double world champion, who joined Ferrari in the off-season from Renault, won the season opener in Bahrain and finished fourth in Australia last weekend after charging through the field following a spin at the first corner that had left him last.

"It's been an incredible start to the season," the Spaniard said. "I definitely didn't think I'd be leading the championship after two races. This situation is way more than I had expected. We can only be pleased and proud of what we have done. "The F10 [car] has proven to be very good, even on a semi-street circuit like Albert Park [in Australia]. It's an easy car to drive. "It is reasonably easy to find a good set-up for any type of track. On top of that, it is very consistent, in that its handling doesn't change much between qualifying and the race.

"That should be a very important factor over the course of the year as there is a world of difference between trying to do a quick time with a minimum fuel load on Saturday afternoon and starting the race with a full tank on Sunday. "Add in the factor that the car is not too hard on its tyres and that completes the package." Alonso's title lead has come despite Ferrari not having the quickest car. Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull-Renault has taken pole and led both events before running into mechanical problems.

Alonso added: "I'm not too sure exactly where we are compared to the others, but one thing is for sure, we've definitely got off on the right foot." The Ferrari was fast in the wet conditions in the Melbourne race before the track dried out and that pace in the damp could be useful again this weekend with rain forecast for Sunday in Sepang. Last year heavy storms forced the race to be stopped after only 31 of the scheduled 56 laps, with half points being awarded to the top eight.

Although the race starts an hour earlier this year, 4pm local time, in an effort to avoid early-evening rain, a Malaysian Meteorological Department spokesman is predicting the worst. "The rain is expected to start around 4pm and normally lasts two hours," he said. That forecast should not put off Jenson Button, who won last year's race in Sepang and has arrived for this year's event full of confidence after his win in Australia moved him up to third in the title standings behind Alonso and the second Ferrari driver, Felipe Massa.

The world champion has done well in Sepang, scoring the first podium of his career there in 2004, and also finishing second in 2006 before he won last year for BrawnGP. Button hopes for another good showing despite not expecting his McLaren-Mercedes to be well suited to the long straights and fast turns of the 5.5km track. "We are in Sepang mindful that the characteristics of the circuit probably won't suit our car as well as it will suit some of the others, but I'm confident that, once again, we'll be fighting at or near the front," the Briton said.

McLaren appear to be behind Red Bull and Ferrari on raw pace but Button is confident that his team's engineers will develop the car quickly to make it more competitive. "We're only two races in. It's the rate of improvement that will most influence the battle at the front," he said. "I'm convinced we have the firepower to develop faster than our key rivals." * With agencies