Tyres the headache for F1 teams, not times - AUTOSPORT analysis
|By Jonathan Noble||Friday, March 15th 2013, 05:13 GMT|
Uncertainty about the implications of Formula 1's aggressive new Pirelli tyres on qualifying and the race, rather than questions about the competitive order, are dominating teams' thoughts in Australia.
While the paddock is in agreement that the closeness of the top five teams makes it impossible to predict who will come out on top this weekend, there are even greater question marks about how higher degrading rubber is going to affect the weekend.
Low track and air temperatures in winter testing left teams experiencing graining that meant long run data gathering was pretty meaningless for tyre data.
And the changeable weather conditions in Melbourne, allied to a likely rapidly evolving track surface, means that teams continue to face steps into the unknown.
Williams technical director Mike Coughlan told AUTOSPORT that he had never known such uncertainty ahead of a new campaign as teams were facing right now.
"This is the worst year ever in terms of understanding where you stand in the pecking order," said Coughlan. "There is the biggest range we've seen [in the tyres] - there is a vast difference."
Red Bull boss Christian Horner said that until teams had gathered a lot more data during free practice they had to be open-minded about how tyre strategies would go.
"The regulations are more stable this year, so the biggest change is the tyre specification," he said.
"I think there is nobody here who could tell you if it is going to be a one, two, three, four or five stop race on Sunday."
TYRE IMPLICATIONS START ON SATURDAY
The first eye-opener for teams could come as soon as Q1 because, with two of the 'established' drivers now set to join the two 'new' teams in the knockout zone, there will be added pressure to deliver quicker laps.
That could manifest itself in teams opting to burn the option tyres very early on, which could have a domino effect further up the order if the frontrunners are suddenly threatened.
Should the grid be as close in lap times as testing has suggested, and a predicted one-second per lap time difference between the super soft and the medium compound pans out, then it could mean even the top teams may have to use more tyres than they would like.
Horner said: "In Q1 there is an added pressure because you have got two midfield cars that are going to have to miss the cut.
"So people are going to be trying harder in Q1 because it is going to be harder to make sure you make that cut."
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn says that multiple issues relating to the tyres need sorting, especially avoid taking too much performance out of the rubber too early in the race.
"You could see from Barcelona testing that if you pushed the tyres hard at the beginning of a stint, you didn't have a lot left for the rest," he said. "So you need to try and manage your pace all the way through.
"Intelligent management of tyres will be a vital factor, even more so than last year. We also have to experience the tyres in very hot temperatures, which we have not seen yet."
He added: "They are the same tyres for everybody and whoever makes the best job of it will get the best result.
"It is up to us to do the best job, meet the challenges head on and do what is necessary to make the tyres work in qualifying and the race."
That is a feeling being shared up and down the pitlane at Albert Park.