After the first grand prix of the season this past weekend in Melbourne, Australia, it appears that Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus is a serious contender for this year's Formula One world championship.
Raikkonen, who started seventh, capitalized on a two-stop strategy while his rivals pitted three times for tires during the 58-lap Australian Grand Prix. Raikkonen drove the final 24 laps around the 3.3-mile Albert Park circuit on old tires. He crossed the finish line 12.4 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso from Ferrari. Three-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull was 22.3 seconds behind in third.
F1 now heads to Malaysia, where Raikkonen has won twice. His first career grand prix victory came in the 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix. The Finn also won it in 2008.
"Malaysia has been good and bad for me in the past," Raikkonen said. "I've had a few bad races there, but I've also won at the circuit, including my first grand prix victory, so it's nice to go back to where it all began with my first win."
As always, the weather conditions in Malaysia will be a factor. Drivers must deal with the heat and humidity. Heavy downpours frequently occur at Sepang Circuit.
Teams are faced with tough conditions for engines and tires. The heat and Sepang's abrasive track surface make tire wear a problem. The engines are heavily stressed from the high air temperatures as well.
"I don't enjoy the heat and the humidity of the place, but the circuit is nice so, we know how it's going to be more or less here," Raikkonen said. "It usually gives a good race, and that's the main thing. Hopefully, we can have another good weekend and score good points."
Last year's Malaysian GP was stopped for nearly one hour due to a torrential downpour. Moments before the start of the 56-lap race, precipitation began falling on the 3.44-mile circuit. All drivers began with intermediate tires. After the fifth lap, race officials deployed the safety car for the rain. The event then came to a halt a few laps later. Just after pitting for a new set of tires, Alonso took over the lead, while Sergio Perez, who drove for Sauber during the 2012 season, moved into second by lap 17. Alonso and Perez ran in that order from there on.
Alonso is scheduled to participate in his 200th grand prix. The Spaniard has won the Malaysian GP with three different teams -- Renault (2005), McLaren (2007) and Ferrari (2012).
Can Alonso claim his fourth Malaysian GP win on Sunday?
"In Australia, everything went fine for us, and we showed we have good potential," Alonso said. "However, it's true that the Australian circuit is strange and unusual. That means this weekend we will be looking for a little bit of confirmation that the car is performing well. After experiencing positive feelings in winter testing and then in Australia, this weekend is a very real test for us."
Alonso is a two-time F1 world champion (2005-06). He has scored 30 wins, 57 podium finishes and 22 poles in 199 grand prix.
Series: Formula One. Date: Sunday, March 24. Race: Malaysian Grand Prix. Site: Sepang International Circuit. Track: 3.44-mile (5.543-kilometer), 15-turn road course. Start Time: 4 a.m. (et). Laps: 56. Miles: 192.887 (310.408 km). 2012 Winner: Fernando Alonso. Television: NBC Sports Network.