Stewart: McLaren can challenge Ferrari, RBR

Three-time Formula One champion Jackie Stewart thinks McLaren can bounce back from its early-season woes and challenge for this year's drivers' championship.

Stewart told The Associated Press on Saturday that Australian Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus has "the capacity" to win the title but that it will take at least four races before a favorite emerges.

He expects McLaren to join Red Bull and Ferrari among the list of challengers, even though the British team has acknowledged its new car isn't performing as expected. That was evident in Australia where Jenson Button finished ninth and Sergio Perez was 11th. The team hasn't done much better here in Malaysia, with Button qualifying in seventh and Perez ninth.

"You can tell right now that Ferrari and Red Bull are going to be competitive quite quickly and you can be almost be guaranteed that McLaren will be competitive in too long," Stewart said. "They've got too much technology, too much knowledge, too much experience not to get it right."

He said sometimes teams find that they're designs don't work as expected, but that those things usually get sorted out quickly.

"They are experts at changing that and putting it right and I think they will unquestionable do it," he said.

Stewart also said he supported holding the Bahrain Grand Prix next month, despite a political crisis that has lasted more than two years and left 60 people dead in the Arab Spring-inspired unrest.

The Bahrain GP was run without incident last year, although it was a public relations disaster for F1. Sectarian violence rocked the streets of Manama causing death and injury during the race weekend, and created a disturbing background for the race which was won by Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel.

"Bahrain is probably more advanced than any other country in the Middle East with regards to its civil liberties and civil rights," he said. "You can't build Rome in a day or a week. You have to give them time to bring democracy in the fuller sense."

Stewart also argued it was unfair to single out Bahrain when many countries that host a Formula One race are far from perfect.

"You could choose any five or six countries that we go to in Formula One and they could have a go the same way as they have with Bahrain," he said. "In my opinion, Bahrain was an easy target."