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Off-track strife hangs over Malaysia race

Formula One heads to its second race of the season this weekend in Malaysia with the reigning champion team threatening to withdraw from the sport, the result of the first race still under protest and race promoters in revolt over the sound of the cars.

The off-track strife has obscured the sporting promise provided by the season opener in Australia.

The race in Melbourne defied those naysayers worried about the reliability of the new V6 turbo engines by having 15 finishers and a welcome shake-up to the sport's pecking order; Sebastian Vettel out of the race early, Mercedes winning but with lingering engine concerns and McLaren and even Williams back in the fight.

However the sport's apparent eagerness to attach a cloud to every silver lining was on show again immediately after the checkered flag fell.

Second-place finisher Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from his home race for exceeding the new limits on fuel flow and his Red Bull team immediately appealed, blaming the problem on a malfunction of the FIA-approved sensor fitted to each car. The appeal will be held on April 14, after the third race in Bahrain.

Red Bull team owner Dietrich Mateschitz raised the stakes further by saying such disputes will be of more importance than money when it comes to deciding whether the energy drink maker stays in the sport beyond the short term.


"The question is not so much whether it makes economic sense, but the reasons would be to do with sportsmanship, political influence and so on," Mateschitz said.

With F1's political heavyweights preoccupied by looming fights in courtrooms and boardrooms, the sport's fans will be more concerned with the on-track battle which resumes at Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur, this weekend.

Mercedes is again the favourite, with Nico Rosberg having won comfortably in Australia. His fastest lap of the race was with a relatively heavy fuel load in the early stages, indicating he had plenty of speed in reserve had he needed it.