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Tire management remains the difference between winning, losing

Mar 17, 2013, 9:02 AM EDT

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The aerodynamically superior Red Bull Racing RB8’s lined up in P1 and P2 for the race start after dominating the early part of the weekend, but couldn’t match Lotus on its tire management at the Australian Grand Prix.

The main story of the weekend, and indeed 2013 so far, is all about the Pirellis and their absolute requirement to operate in a very specific temperature window.

Melbourne was cold on Sunday, in stark contrast to the hot temperatures we saw earlier in the week and it’s impossible to overstate the impact that has on the way the cars and their tires behave.

Kimi Raikkonen drove a great race to win and the E21 continued where its predecessor from 2012 left off in being ‘light’ on its rubber. Running longer than others on each of his three stints meant he could make one less stop than his main competitors and still have life left at the end. The degradation was so minimal, in fact, that he was able to set the fastest lap time of the race just a lap before the checker flag.

Last year’s Lotus was also considerably better in hot conditions, struggling to get heat into the tires when it was colder. We head to Malaysia in just a few days time, where, if that holds true once more, we could see another very competitive display from the team.

Ferrari look to have a good car. The F138 is more manageable and easier to find the sweet spot in terms of setup. Last year’s struggles forced the team to dig pretty deep to find technical solutions to a host of issues and it looks promising so far.

It’s a desperate time at my old team, McLaren. After going pretty radical with their concept design for this season, they’re really struggling to make it work. At the pre-season test in Spain in February, the car looked quick on the first day, but then has struggled since. Martin Whitmarsh confirmed yesterday that a front suspension part had been incorrectly fitted on that first day, running the car too low. It worked for them there and on that day, but they can’t now replicate the effect with settings that are feasible elsewhere.
The car’s difficult in all areas right now and the team won’t rule out a switch back to last year’s MP4-27 should the disaster continue.

Must just say things are looking up for Force India. A great showing for them with a car that was competitive amongst the front-runners. It’s a car that’s been developed from a technical partnership with McLaren and uses the same gearbox and Mercedes engine. After race one, it could be McLaren needing the technical assistance, not the other way round.

It’s important to remember this is only part one of a nineteen race calendar and I’m pretty sure that the Red Bulls will be strong in Malaysia. Tires will be key again, but conversely to Melbourne, the issue won’t be getting them up to temperature, but stopping them from overheating in the tropical heat.

Australia’s given the teams a lot of data to work through, but with race two only a few day away, it’ll be setup and operational tweaks, rather than technical upgrades that make any differences this time next Sunday.

Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.

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