BMW Sauber has a real chance of becoming a thorn in the side of Formula 1's 'big four' teams this year because its car is so good at looking after its tyres, Bridgestone analysis has revealed.
With the Swiss-outfit's C29 having already shown some strong pace in pre-season testing, the team's hopes of delivering some surprise results are boosted by the fact that early data reveals it suffers less tyre degradation than Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull Racing and Mercedes GP.
That ability to look after its tyre could prove crucial on two fronts this season - by first of all allowing the team to use a softer tyre than its rivals in Q3, but also in delivering it greater consistency over the course of a race when there will be a premium on looking after the rubber now that refuelling is banned.
Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone's director of motorsport tyre development, says there is little separating the big four teams in terms of tyre degradation - but Sauber is a different case.
"We have compared many teams' data and looking at the quick [four] teams - their degradation tendency is very, very similar," he told AUTOSPORT. "Once they have the 150kg start weight, with both the medium and soft compound, then there is little difference - so we could expect a very close pace. However, Sauber is more consistent."
Although this weekend's race is Bahrain will not be too punishing on the tyre front, Hamashima believes the difference between Sauber and the other teams is enough to offer the outfit strategy options that others do not have.
When asked if there was a chance for Sauber to opt for more marginal tyres than their rivals to help boost qualifying performance, Hamashima said: "Yes, it is possible.
"With an easy car, you can have the possibility to do that. Somewhere like Barcelona will be very interesting - because the circuit is severe and the softer tyre may only be good to get one lap time before suffering big degradation in the race.
"But even places like Monaco and Bahrain, which are very, very easy on tyres, the specification that shows the best lap time should be the best race tyre - which could make it interesting as well."
BMW Sauber's technical chief Willy Rampf acknowledged that the C29's tyre performance was one of its main strengths.
"The car doesn't have any stability problems, and its performance and balance on high fuel loads is a strong point," he told AUTOSPORT in an interview. "We will build on this - it's a very good thing. Our car is not too heavy on its tyres, so we can do reasonable long stints without killing them.
"That will help keep the strategies more flexible, if you're not forced to stop by tyre wear."
Hamashima also believed that the competitiveness at the front of the field had closed up in the final pre-season test at Barcelona, as McLaren and Red Bull Racing delivered car improvements.
"At the first three tests, Ferrari it seemed had a little bit of an advantage over one lap. However, in Barcelona, McLaren and Red Bull used their latest cars and the picture was very mixed. It's now very difficult to judge."