Lewis Hamilton has admitted that there can be no clear favourite to win the first few races of the 2011 grand prix season whilst teams and drivers continue to learn about the switch from Bridgestone to Pirelli tyres.
The Briton will be hoping that an upset is possible after struggling for both pace and reliability in testing with the new McLaren MP4-26, and has warned the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari, which appear to be the quickest combinations, that a clear head on the pitwall could be the key to success in the flyaway races in Australia, Malaysia and China over the next few weeks. Both teams have struggled on strategic calls in the past, with Ferrari notably covering the wrong Red Bull driver in last season's Abu Dhabi finale and allowing Sebastian Vettel to steal the world title from under Fernando Alonso's nose.
“In the first few races, you can imagine that everyone is going to be confused with the pit-stops," he told etyres.co.uk
, "Eventually, it will settle down and everyone will get used to it - maybe three pit-stops will be common - but, for now, we don't really know. It could be two, it could be four, it could be five… who knows?”
The switch from Bridgestone to Pirelli, prompted by the former's decision to quit F1 at the end of 2010, has led to a series of complaints from drivers worried that their tyres are failing to last any great distance before degradation takes its toll. Hamilton himself has claimed that F1 suddenly appears a lot slower with the new rubber [HERE
], as drivers have to try and make the tyres last as long as possible to work a meaningful and competitive strategy, but believes that the recent Barcelona group test helped him make headway in the search for the right driving style.
“You can't predict it,” he admitted, “but you can feel it going. It's being able to make the call when the tyres are losing temperature, as that's when they are losing rubber. Then you need to be able to make the right call and hope that your team don't say 'No, don't come in'.”
World champion Vettel has similarly suggested that, despite Red Bull's apparent position at the head of the field, the actual pecking order may not emerge until F1 is back on European soil in May. Both the German and RBR team-mate Mark Webber have taken turns at the top of the timesheets in the pre-season, but Vettel remains wary of the vagaries of testing programmes.
“It was a good day and a good time although, to be honest, it's difficult to say where we are as the lap times of the teams are all over the place," he said from Barcelona recently, "We've done a lot of laps again though, which is good. We have had no major problems with reliability throughout testing and the speed looks good as far as we can judge, but I think we have to wait until after Melbourne – maybe in Malaysia or China – to really see where we are.”
Even as the FIA reveals that it will amend F1's Sporting Regulations to allow Pirelli to carry out additional tyre testing over a grand prix weekend, by giving teams a chance to run an additional specification of dry tyre for evaluation purposes during Friday testing [HERE
], Hamilton has said that he will call on his own experiences to overcome McLaren - and Pirelli's - lack of performance.
“Looking back at 2009, I had one of the worst cars - or at least the only car that was driving on three wheels," he recalled, "I came from 18th to fourth [at the first race] and that was with the weird tyres - we didn't know how the tyres would behave with the lower downforce."