Yesterday, upon being questioned for the umpteenth time since Hockenheim last year about his car's ability to run its nose visibly closer to the ground than any other, the unflappable sheen of Christian Horner momentarily cracked: "Look," he exclaimed, exasperated, "I'll explain it very simply," before going on to attribute the trait to running the car with a lot more ride height rake than rival cars.
There's almost certainly more to it than just that, but the RB7's nose-down stance is a visible symptom of its aerodynamic concept, one that the car has been designed around. It's only such a hot topic because of the continuing superiority of the Red Bull and a Formula 1 community nervous about the prospect of a season dominated by one car.
The underlying signs beneath the headline practice times from Sepang are that those fears are justified. Although Jenson Button got his McLaren within 0.01s of Mark Webber's Red Bull in FP2, just as in Melbourne too much shouldn't be read into this, other than McLaren has got a good handle on the set-up and balance of its car. Right back to the early part of last season Red Bull has invariably run its cars in very conservative trim during the practices. The extra 0.5s margin it tends to find in Q3 would imply that they run the practices with around 15kg more fuel than their rivals.
If we assume that's what we were seeing again today, then the most significant point of form is that Mark Webber's Melbourne blues now have a solid explanation - a partial seizure of the third spring in the rear suspension - and that he should be back to slugging it out with his team-mate once more.
This could be crucial for the sake of the title contest, for if the RB7 maintains its apparent superiority, the only prospect of a championship fight would be between the team's two drivers. Vettel was a couple of tenths slower than Webber - enough for both McLaren drivers to slot themselves between the Red Bulls - all of that time lost in the final sector of the lap, where Webber appeared to be much more aggressive.
Of much more concern to Red Bull than the pace of the McLarens was the matter of rear tyre wear. Tyre degradation is substantially greater than in Melbourne, thanks to the combination of faster, longer duration corners and an abrasive gripless track with a surface temperature around 25 degrees higher.
Pirelli is expecting most teams to be opting for a three-stop strategy. "The soft tyre is looking like it will be good for maybe eight to nine laps," says Pirelli's Paul Hembrey, "but it is faster than the hard over a qualifying lap by around 1s. That gives the teams some interesting strategic dilemmas."
In Australia Lewis Hamilton's McLaren was keeping the pressure on Vettel up to the first stops as the Red Bull wore out its rear tyres sooner, despite Vettel having been cruising - and that was with the car's KERS removed. It might have been about nothing more than set-up on that day, but equally it might just be that the Red Bull is intrinsically harder on its rear tyres than the McLaren.
Certainly, running a higher rear ride height would put more leverage on the lateral forces going through the tyres, other things being equal (which they probably are not). Webber made a KERS-equipped 11-lap run on hard tyres at the beginning of FP2 and after just nine laps, his rears were finished. This was despite lapping around 8s off his single-lap pace. If the soft tyres are good for just nine laps, and assuming a three-stop strategy, the remaining 47 laps must be divided between three further sets of tyres, presumably hards, thereby requiring a stint duration for the hards of 15-16 laps.
"Getting the car balanced has a massive effect on the durability of these tyres," observed Ross Brawn, "and that's what we are all concentrating on in these sessions." So with some fine tuning of the balance, we might see Red Bull improve its tyre durability a little by Sunday. But enough? And enough to risk keeping the KERS on this time?
Of consolation to Red Bull will be the fact that it is not alone in struggling to get the required durability for a three-stop. Also in FP2 Button did a 12-lap run of a similar pace to Webber's, and that extra lap came at the expense of even more severe and sudden drop-off right at the end of the stint. So if the McLaren is indeed easier on its tyres, it's not by so very much if today was any guide. But a very fast Red Bull that cannot comfortably exploit its full potential in the race - and which might not run KERS - against a McLaren that's quick on the straights might just give us an interesting race.
But then again... If the Red Bull actually has the one-lap pace we suspect it has, Vettel and/or Webber may well be in the luxurious position of qualifying in Q3 on the hards and still being somewhere in the first two rows. In which case it would be starting the race with a very big strategic advantage.
What about Ferrari? What indeed. The quickest red car was 1s off McLaren and Fernando Alonso was finding it impossible to get a balance that could be maintained for more than a few laps. Even setting it up with a lot of new tyre understeer, it was oversteering within a few laps and wearing out those delicate rears. He worked long and hard at this but neither he nor Felipe Massa found a solution with which they were happy. The hope is that there is a sweet spot in the set-up that will be found in FP3 tomorrow morning. If not, they are in for a long weekend.
Mercedes looked at least as strong on Friday as Ferrari, the short wheelbase car keeping Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg busy, but productively so. Schumacher's best lap just shaded Ferrari's best and he reported the car to be feeling much more like it had at the end of Barcelona testing than the somewhat difficult, edgy machine of Melbourne. Brawn emphasised the need to improve its tyre usage though.
Out on track, the smooth consistency of Sergio Perez again impressed and the late, progressive way he was picking up the throttle out of the slow corners told of one of the reasons he was able to make his tyres last so well last time. The Sauber managed a good 13-lap run that again suggests it's going to be a strong factor in the race.
This might be brought into even sharper focus than in Australia. If the soft tyre is decisively faster over one lap but lasts only 8-9 laps, the Q3 frontrunners will be almost obliged to qualify on the soft but will be having to stop before they have cleared those at the head of Q2 who will likely begin on the hard. The permutations become infinitely complex at this point. It might even be that the wet race some teams are forecasting would make things simpler...
Get back on track. Join today for unlimited access to all Autosport news and features.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from monthly, yearly and two-yearly packages.