After a relatively gentle start at the Australian Grand Prix a week ago, F1 tyre supplier Pirelli knows that it is in for a more severe examination at round two of the season in Malaysia.
Criticised at the end of 2011 for making its rubber too good, the Italian company has attempted to make the tyres more marginal for the new season, forcing teams to consider how to use the available compounds strategically. Malaysia, however, is one of those venues that will stretch the tyres to their limits, both for the weather and track conditions.
Pirelli has brought the hard and medium compound P Zero tyres to Sepang but, with track temperatures in Malaysia likely to exceed 50 degrees centigrade during the hottest part of the day, and a rougher surface than was found in Melbourne, a significantly higher wear rate and more severe degradation is set to be the order of the day - or weekend.
Degradation was certainly a talking point after the opening day of action in Malaysia, with almost every driver reporting problems with grip during the two 90-minute sessions. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton was quickest in both, posting a 1min 38.021secs lap on the harder tyre during the first and following up with a 1min 38.172secs on the medium second time around. With the forecast uncertain, many of the drivers took the opportunity to carry out longer runs on the hard tyre during the first session, and only the Caterham duo of Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen ran on the medium at that point. Despite predictions to the contrary, conditions remained dry during the second session, with the drivers using both the hard and medium tyres from the beginning of the 90 minutes.
“Due to the weather conditions and the abrasive track surface, degradation here is a lot higher than it was in Melbourne," Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery confirmed, "The hard tyre stood up very well during the long runs, but we will have to analyse all the data properly in order to have a better idea of exactly how many laps each tyre will last for and how many pit-stops we are likely to see.
"Our first impression is that a three-stop strategy seems likely and, so far, there is a difference of around 0.5 seconds between the two compounds, but the track will still evolve considerably before the race. Today's sessions were extremely important for the teams to carry out longer runs that will enable them to determine the crossover point between the different compounds, and which tyres they will race on.”
Despite anticipating an increase in wear for Malaysia, the teams remain content with the changes Pirelli have made for 2012.
"I think there were lots of really exciting things in the [Australian] race," McLaren MD Jonathan Neale told the official F1 website prior to the action getting underway at Sepang, "I thought there was degradation in the tyres - we certainly experienced it. We were shuffling cars and trying to manage tyre wear through the race in expectation that Australia does throw up safety cars.
"I think Pirelli's doing a good job. I think it's too early in the season to tell. At the moment, I don't have enough running to make any suggestion about what we'd want Pirelli to do more or less of, especially until we've run a wet race. It will be interesting to see how both the intermediates and the full wets perform. We need to get a bit further through the season before we can give you an objective answer. But I think Pirelli are doing a good job."