SEPANG, Malaysia, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - Red Bull will travel to Shanghai this week confident after victory in Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix but wary of their own weaknesses after the race revealed a technical "Achilles heel".
The failure of the Kinetic Energy Regeneration System (KERS) on both of the champion constructor's cars during Sebastian Vettel's triumph at the Sepang International Circuit signaled a rare imperfection.
Under technical chief Adrian Newey, widely regarded as the greatest designer in Formula One history, Red Bull have developed into the fastest and most advanced team on the grid. But events before and during Sunday's race in the sweltering heat and humidity at Sepang saw both Red Bull drivers, German Vettel and Australian Mark Webber, lose the use of KERS -- a power-boost drawn from the energy savedunder braking -- and at times struggle to impose themselves.
"McLaren were much closer in qualifying here than they were in Melbourne," admitted Newey, winner of more races than any other designer. "How much of that is the nature of the circuit and how much is that because they have improved their car in the intervening two weeks, I don't know -- because I don't know enough about their car. "I think it is the usual thing with F1. Things change and evolve."
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton almost took pole position ahead of Vettel in Saturday's qualifying session, but saw his race wrecked by a combination of poor strategy and bad luck as the defending world champion reeled off his second straight win in two races this year.
Afterwards, Hamilton said his team's strategic errors had contributed to his disappointment as he finished seventh, before being demoted to eighth by the race stewards for weaving during a scrap for third place in the final stages.
"It was a terrible race," he said. "I started second and I came eighth. I tried my best. I had four pit stops and the tyres didn't last. I stopped before everyone else when I could have stayed out for a couple of laps more. "And then the wrong tyres were put on. I had the option instead of the prime. For the last stint, I had an old prime which didn't last and I had to pit. It was very poor strategy but there's nothing I can do."
The British driver's misery was in contrast to Vettel's controlled joy and the optimism of his McLaren team-mate and compatriot Jenson Button, who finished second.
"I enjoyed that that and the felt good. It gives me confidence. The feeling of the car is good and that is important to me.
We can't let the Red Bulls have it all their own way for much longer," Button said. "Hopefully we can take the fight to Red Bull because everyone wants to see that. Our aim is to challenge these guys, but it's not that easy -- they are very, very fast. At this moment in time, Sebastian is the person to beat.
"He's won two races out of two and nobody else has been as consistent. In terms of pace we are the second best, but we need to find some improvements."
The good news for Button, Hamilton and Ferrari, is that Red Bull are expected to run in Shanghai without the aid of KERS -- a blow that may give their rivals an advantage at the start and in the opening laps.
Newey said: "For us, the reality is that it is a system in its infancy. We are not a manufacturer team so we had to develop KERS ourselves, which has not been our area of expertise in the past.
"We are also doing it on a limited resource, limited budget and with limited experience, so we are on a rapid learning curve. How long it takes us to get to the top of that learning curve remains to be seen."
Webber had a problem with KERS that meant he was unable to use it at any point in the race, Newey said, while they decided to stop Vettel's system as a safety precaution.
If they are without KERS in Shanghai, Red Bull may find it much tougher to resist their rivals than they have done so far in 2011.