Tyre trashing talk fills Sepang paddock


three-stop strategy: Red Bull F1 driver Mark Webber of Australia makes a pit stop during the second practice of the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix at the Sepang circuit. — Reuters photo

SEPANG: The degradation of the Pirelli tyres in searing Sepang temperatures was the talk of the paddock ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix, with Red Bull and McLaren predicting a forced three-stop race strategy tomorrow.

The tyres, which lasted longer than expected on their debut at the season-opening race in Australia a fortnight ago, have suffered in the stifling Malaysian heat where track temperatures reached 49 degrees yesterday with 50 percent humidity.

The tyre wear meant drivers were forced to take a more conservative approach than last year during the two practice sessions ahead of Sunday’s 56-lap race.

“Obviously tyres don’t last as long (as in Melbourne) that’s for sure but I think this is the same for everyone,” world champion Sebastian Vettel told a swarm of reporters after finishing fourth in the second practice session.

“It is difficult to give a number (of laps the tyres will last for) but I don’t think you will two-stop and one-stop is…forbidden,” the championship leader joked after a long pause to choose a suitable final word.

Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber topped the time sheets in both practice sessions yesterday and offered a similarly dim view of the tyre’s longevity.

“More than five, less than 25,” the quick-talking Australian replied when asked how many laps he thought the tyres would last in tomorrow’s race.

McLaren’s Jenson Button was second fastest in the later session as the British team’s swift improvement after a number of modifications continued after struggling in pre-season testing.

“After Melbourne, we chose to head in a certain direction in order to resolve the issues we had in the first race, but the track is very different here. So we went back on a few of those changes, and everything is performing better now,” Button said.

The Briton, a winner here for Brawn in the a weather-truncated race in 2009, gave a tired look when asked what was the main problem he had faced in the sessions.

“For everyone it’s regrip. It’s very difficult around here the tyres are doing what we expected… but it is very different to what we saw in Melbourne,” the 2009 world champion said.

“The last run on the soft tyre option was reasonable but when they drop off they fall off a cliff so it’s very tricky.”

Button’s team mate Lewis Hamilton, who finished second in the earlier session and third in the afternoon, was pleased with the progress of his car and shared Vettel’s belief of a Sunday filled with pitstops.

“Today has been interesting. We seem reasonably close to the top of the timesheets and I think we’ve made some positive steps with the set-up of the car,” the 2008 champion said.

“The track conditions are massively different compared with the cold conditions we experienced in Australia, so the tyres don’t last as long. Maybe Sunday will see a three-stop race.” Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery faced a number of questions about the tyres in a media conference after the day’s action and said the conditions had been very testing.

“We do have more degradation here than at Melbourne and there’s quite a bit of difference in times between the soft and hard tyres, so the teams must be working out their strategies now based on that,” he said.

“I’m guessing on a three-stop strategy but we were surprised by the one-stop Sauber managed in Melbourne, which we did not envisage.

“But three looks like being the strategy here and that is the expected scenario.” — Reuters