Sebastian Vettel is taking mixed reactions away from Sunday's Australian Grand Prix after seeing pole position translate into only third place at the end of the 58-lap race.
The German had been many people's pre-season favourite, despite winter testing not offering too many concrete clues as to the relative performance of the various frontrunners, and those views solidified after Red Bull showed its pace in both practice and, more importantly, qualifying at Albert Park. Vettel's flying start to the race also did little to dispel suggestions that the rest of the field had work to do but, as the laps ticked by, it became apparent that the RB9 was suffering as badly as anyone with tyre wear.
“I think the pace was there, the naked pace,” he confirmed, “Qualifying was pretty good for us, and the first two laps of the race were pretty good too. The first two laps on each set of tyres felt pretty good but, obviously, after that, we couldn't keep it up and the times set [by] Fernando, and Kimi [Raikkonen] especially, were quite impressive considering the amount of laps on the tyres. We couldn't do that and that's why, I think, we lost out a little bit today.”
Vettel eventually finished third on the road, although he didn't realise for a long time that Raikkonen was well in front, having not seen the Finn since the cars formed up on the grid. Lotus managed to make its Pirellis last better than the opposition, allowing Raikkonen to make just two stops for fresh rubber against his rivals' three.
“I think, in winter testing, everybody
had trouble making the tyres last,” the three-time world champion opined, “It seemed to be very inconsistent in Barcelona, very dependent on the day you were running, dependent on the conditions. I think we ended up today with similar conditions, but it's a completely different track. I think the amount of laps covered today were not even out of sight, they were out of thought, I think, in Barcelona - for everyone.
“I think, however, there has been a certain trend if you look at Lotus last year, looking after the tyres. If you remember, in a couple of key races such as Montreal, they seemed to be the only team to make a one-stop [strategy] possible, whereas I think Fernando and myself struggled and had to pit again.
“You can argue that the traffic didn't help, especially because you start to slide around even more and then lose more of the tyres, and we struggled with that today. But I'm not blaming anything or anyone because there are plenty of laps in the race where you can make it up again. P3 I think was the best we could get today.”
Asked whether he thought Red Bull's downforce advantage had perhaps been detrimental to the degradation of this year's reworked Pirellis, Vettel attempted to play down the connection.
“At the end of the day, there were times when we had plenty of downforce compared to other people, but I think these times are over, not just this year but way before that,” he explained, “I think we are still very competitive, but I think there's a lot more to it than just the raw downforce level. You could argue that, with more downforce, you go faster, you're asking more of the tyres, all of those things, but I think overall there's a certain trend where some cars seem to work pretty well in some conditions.
“As Kimi touched on today, he was struggling with front tyres; I think for us it was more evened out. We had both axles running away from us. I'm not sure about the Ferraris but, looking at their tyres during running, it looked pretty similar to us, especially at the end of the stints.
“Then again, every day can be a bit different. I think you need to be very careful to find a real trend, but I think there have been a lot of races where we have been looking after the tyres pretty well and they will come again. For sure, today we were a little bit behind, but next week is another race and completely different conditions, so we will see what happens there.”