While new F1 tyre supplier Pirelli came in for some unexpected praise following the performance of its products in the season-opening grand prix in Australia, the company reserved special recognition for rookie driver Sergio Perez.
Although the Mexican subsequently had his debut points removed by the stewards for a technical infringement not related to his tyres, he made observers inside the paddock and out sit up and take notice with a run to seventh place built on just one change of rubber. While his rivals all relied on two or three pit-stops to see them through, the inexperienced Perez nursed his tyres through 58 laps to lead what appeared to be a double-scoring result for Sauber.
“We were looking and we all thought 'he must come in, he's got to come in what's he doing?'," Pirelli director of motorsport Paul Hembery admitted to etyres.co.uk
, “We thought the data men must be wrong and he must have had a stop and no-one saw it. We checked. We asked 'are you sure?', and we were told 'yes, he's done just one stop'. It was quite a surprise - and very exciting.
“His driving style was a factor and also the vehicle. It was an exceptional drive, [and] I would be surprised if it happened often again. If it does we would have to look at what we're doing. What do we need to do? Put qualifying tyres out for races?”
Prior to the race, Pirelli had predicted two to three pit-stops for most runners, and this proved to be exactly the case. Eleven of the 16 classified finishers, including race winner Sebastian Vettel, stopped twice, with five finishers stopping three times. The podium finishers, from three different teams, all stopped twice, and all finished the race on the harder prime tyre, having completed their first two stints on the option compound. This turned out to be the most effective strategy in Albert Park, which finally witnessed a finish for Vettel after three years of retirement.
"We have to make some compliments to Pirelli," the German noted, "After the tests, we were all a bit scared but, coming here, in the end, we didn't see as many stops as expected. All in all, I think it was a smooth race, and Pirelli did a great job.
"It's not that easy to prepare a tyre that quickly, and we had a lot of laps at the test, a lot of experience. Barcelona was very different in terms of tyre wear compared to here, and we were giving them a hard time over the winter as it looked quite frightening, to be honest. But I think we saw way less stops today, and even a one-stop strategy so, all in all, I think they did the right job."
Second-placed Lewis Hamilton was also positive in his assessment of the tyres, which he believed had improved immeasurably over the final pre-season test in Spain.
"You do find slight difference [between the compounds] in the front tyres, which has always been generally the same, but I think, coming here, it feels almost like they have changed the tyres completely because they just behaved fantastically well," he reported, "They're very, very similar, if not better, to what I have experienced in the past. Very, very consistent - and the graining was nowhere near as heavy as it was in Barcelona. I guess we have a lot more downforce now, so that contributes to that.