SEPANG, April 11 – Two races into Formula One's brave new world of soft-wearing Pirelli tyres and multiple pit-stops, drivers, teams and fans have been left scratching their heads.
The new rubber, which provides little or no grip once it passes its peak, has ushered in more drama and, with other mechanical aids, more overtaking — but it has also made the races harder to understand, drivers said.
Jenson Button of McLaren, the 2009 champion who came runner-up to Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull machine in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, said the race had left him perturbed.
"It was a really confusing race, understanding or trying to understand the pit-stops and whether it is worth looking after the tyres or not, so it was pretty tricky.
"In the last stint, putting the prime (hard) tyre on, the car came alive, I had so much more grip. I had a feeling the tyre would not go the same way as the option tyre."
Button’s hopes of racing against Vettel in the closing stages were hampered by the need to make sure his tyres lasted the distance, he said.
"I had the team telling me to back it off and look after the tyres. In the racer’s mind you want to push and catch the leader even though you know it is not on," he said.
Even 23-year-old Vettel, who cruised to his second straight win this year and the 12th of his career, at times struggled to maintain his pace as he tried to prolong the life of tyres designed to die rapidly and dramatically.
Red Bull technical director Adrian Newey said the tyres would affect teams’ overall competitive positions.
"If you go back to a few years ago, you saw — when Ferrari and McLaren were battling for the championship, you could see that they used their tyres differently," he said.
"That played into one team’s hands at one race, and another’s at another. There will almost certainly be an element of that this year.
"The tyres are a huge learning curve for all of us, and nobody has a full understanding at the moment. I wouldn’t say there was a particular set-to-set difference, but quite small changes in balance can create quite large differences in degradation."
Button’s McLaren teammate and fellow Briton Lewis Hamilton blamed his disappointing eighth-place finish on his team’s poor decision-making, including what he said was the wrong tyre choice.
"I had four pit stops and the tyres didn’t last. I stopped before everyone else when I could have stayed out for a couple of laps more," he said.
"Then the wrong tyres were put on. I had the option instead of the prime. For the last stint I had an old prime which didn’t last and I had to pit. It was very poor strategy but there’s nothing I can do," he said.