Malaysia has been a happy hunting ground for Fernando Alonso but the Spaniard predicts a difficult week ahead for the Ferrari team on a circuit where he made his Formula One breakthrough.
The double world champion secured his first pole position and podium finish (third) for Renault in 2003 but the death of Italian MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli at Sepang last October has cast a shadow over Alonso`s preparations for Sunday`s race.
"Sepang will always be one of my favourite circuits because you never forget the first pole position and podium in Formula One, and both events happened here, so it`s a circuit that I love to drive - technical and interesting," Alonso told reporters on Thursday.
"At the same time, after the accident of Marco (Simoncelli) last year, racing here will always be sad a little bit and tough, knowing that one of our colleagues died here."
Alonso has won twice in Malaysia, in 2005 with Renault and two years later with McLaren, but despite an encouraging fifth place in the season-opening race in Melbourne last week, the Spaniard does not expect to be challenging anywhere near the front of the grid this weekend.
"We need to see how competitive we can be here at this different circuit," said Alonso, who could only qualify 12th in Melbourne. "We don`t expect any miracles from Australia to Malaysia as the cars are identical. But who knows?
"In Australia, no one thought we could finish fifth. There were a lot of people quicker than us but in the race, for different circumstances ... there were some incidents that helped us finish that high up."
"With a normal race, we will finish further behind but with a crazy race, with rain or something, we could finish further in front. We`ll see what we can do."
Last season was a poor one for Ferrari with a single race win at Silverstone the highlight of a dismal campaign that appears to have spilled over to the start of this one.
"I am calm but I know that we need to work hard to catch up with the guys in front of us," Alonso added.
"We are not in the position where we wanted to start the championship but after 11 years in Formula One, you understand it`s a long year and what you need to do when you have the best car as well as when you don`t have the best car."
"As far as our targets and our goals ... we need to score as many points in this couple of races and then in a very short period of time, try to get on the podium and win races.
"If we manage to do that then we have plenty of races to recover and close the gap, if we don`t manage to do that then someone else has done better than us. We need to wait and see but I have 100 percent trust in the team."