- Mercedes could speed ahead in Malaysia
- Mercedes has breached teams' agreement - Red Bull
- No F-duct yet on dominant McLaren
- Horner says no to Ferrari switch
- Ferrari denies Massa axe reports
- Massa tries to ignore axe rumours
- Button, Alesi tip Lotus to shine at Sepang
Mercedes could speed ahead in Malaysia
After all the pre-season hype, the Melbourne paddock banter about its clever F-duct system and a strong showing in qualifying, Mercedes failed to shine in last Sunday's season opener.
The situation has many paddock regulars confused as to just how good the new W03 really is.
"Good question," Michael Schumacher told Bild newspaper at an event this week in Malaysia. "We don't know yet."
Agreed Finnish commentator and former F1 driver Mika Salo: "It's going to be interesting.
"Malaysia requires a lot more from a car aerodynamically than does Australia.
"I am sure McLaren will still be at the front, but Red Bull and Mercedes will probably be closer."
So what happened to Mercedes' early promise in Australia?
"In the race we had some problems, especially with the tyres - they degraded too quickly," revealed team boss Ross Brawn.
But for Sepang, "We have an idea about how we can get it under control," he added.
If that is true, then Sir Jackie Stewart is looking forward to seeing "the old Michael Schumacher" for the first time since he initially retired in 2006.
"He is driving well again," the famous Scot told Kolner Express newspaper, "but so too is Nico Rosberg.
"They have a much better car than last year, and Michael is finally showing what he is capable of.
"I don't know if that will be (good enough for) victories, but for sure we will see him again on the podium," added Stewart.
Mercedes has breached teams' agreement - Red Bull
Red Bull has stepped up the technical row with Mercedes by accusing the German team of breaching a gentlemen's agreement.
Red Bull and Lotus last weekend threatened to protest the results in Australia, due to Mercedes' innovative new 'F-duct'-like solution.
"They are not complying with the agreement of the technical working group," said Christian Horner.
Adrian Newey also told Auto Bild Motorsport: "The FIA has allowed the system, but Mercedes has gone against the gentlemen's agreement of the teams."
He is apparently referring to a meeting last year in which teams informally agreed not to pursue certain technical directions.
No F-duct yet on dominant McLaren
Contrary to recent speculation, McLaren does not yet have a Mercedes-style new F-duct on its dominant 2012 car.
When boss Martin Whitmarsh said in Melbourne that he would not be joining a theoretical protest against the Mercedes innovation, many suggested it was because the MP4-27 is already hiding something similar.
Not yet, although the FIA did take a long look at the silver car in Melbourne.
"If they were looking for an F-duct, we don't have one," Whitmarsh smiled to Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.
In fact, the scrutineers were checking and then re-checking the height of the MP4-27's front wing.
But the F-duct might be coming.
"All the teams are going to be trying to extract the maximum within the permitted regulations," confirmed managing director Jonathan Neale in a media teleconference this week.
But he also revealed that McLaren doesn't yet "understand well enough" how the Mercedes system works.
Melbourne winner Jenson Button and his teammate Lewis Hamilton will therefore race a basically unchanged McLaren this weekend in Malaysia.
But Hamilton's downbeat mood has been picked up with the news that he was beaten by Button from pole last Sunday due to a minor clutch issue.
"It wasn't my fault," said the Briton, "but we now understand and know how to improve in the future."
As for their differing race performances, Hamilton insists he now understands "the reasons" for Melbourne "and it puts me in a really positive frame of mind" ahead of this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.
Horner says no to Ferrari switch
Christian Horner has told British newspapers he is not switching to Ferrari.
As Red Bull looks to have its fourth consecutive championship-contending car on its hands for 2012, F1's most famous team Ferrari has kicked off its new title campaign in stark contrast, with a car not yet fit for the podium.
Designer Adrian Newey has already said no to a switch to the Maranello marque, and now Horner - Red Bull's 38-year-old team principal - has scotched similar speculation about his own future.
"Ferrari is a great team but my future is committed to Red Bull," he is quoted by the Sun.
"You can see what the appeal is at Ferrari but you can also see the pitfalls."
And the Briton is quoted by the Daily Mail: "Dietrich Mateschitz gave me the chance as a 31-year-old to step into Formula One and entrusted me to build a team for him.
"I feel very much part of the team and I have no burning desire within me to go and work at Ferrari.
"I am happy where I am. I have a multi-year commitment," Horner insisted.
Ferrari denies Massa axe reports
Ferrari has swiftly denied reports Felipe Massa could be dumped even before his 2012 contract runs out.
Among the Italian press' hypothetical candidates for the struggling Brazilian's seat are Sergio Perez, Adrian Sutil and even the out-of-work Italian Jarno Trulli.
But according to O Estado de S.Paulo correspondent Livio Oricchio, Ferrari spokesman Luca Colajanni dismissed the reports as being "without foundation".
Colajanni added that Ferrari is fully supportive of Massa's situation, and has built up a new F2012 chassis for him to race this weekend after underperforming in Australia.
Oricchio quoted Massa as having said after Melbourne that he believed there was a problem with his original chassis.
"My setup was not very different from Alonso's," said the 30-year-old, "but my tyres were gone after five laps."
Massa tries to ignore axe rumours
Felipe Massa's Ferrari seat is a big talking point in the Sepang paddock on Thursday.
Following a dire performance in Australia for the Brazilian, the Italian press has named Sergio Perez, Adrian Sutil and even Jarno Trulli as possible candidates to immediately oust Massa.
Mexican Perez, the cream of Ferrari's development programme and already at Ferrari-powered Sauber, said in Malaysia: "It's very early to say that or speculate."
Very keen for a chance like this, however, is Force India refugee Sutil, who has been left without a job in the wake of his criminal conviction.
"I am very motivated and I'm training hard to stay fit," the German is quoted on Thursday by Auto Bild Motorsport.
All eyes will be on Massa this weekend, as Ferrari has agreed to build him up a new F2012 chassis in the wake of his lacklustre performance in Melbourne.
"I really don't care," he said in reaction to the rumours, "I have a job."
Button, Alesi tip Lotus to shine at Sepang
Two experts have tipped Lotus to shine this weekend at Sepang.
The black and gold E20 car was a standout of the winter pre-season, but Kimi Raikkonen qualified poorly in Australia while Romain Grosjean was punted into early retirement by Pastor Maldonado.
Seeing the chequered flag first in Melbourne was McLaren's championship leader Jenson Button, but he said he is expecting a "strong fight" this weekend.
"Of course we're not relaxing," said the Briton.
"Both Red Bull drivers were very quick in the race (in Australia), and I think we can expect further strong challenges (in Malaysia) from Mercedes and Lotus," added Button.
Also anticipating a Malaysian push by Lotus is team ambassador Jean Alesi, the former Ferrari race winner.
"The car should suit Sepang well," said the Frenchman.
"In testing in Jerez and Barcelona it was particularly good in the fast turns, which is what defines the Malaysia track.
"Lotus appear to be quicker than everyone except McLaren," added Alesi.
He is worried, however, that the former Renault team might not be able to keep up its pace throughout 2012.
"Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari have much bigger budgets," said Alesi.
"They have a brilliant team at Enstone but it is really tough to match the development pace of the biggest teams, and I think that will be Lotus' challenge this year."