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'Extreme' Sepang a big challenge, admits Pirelli
19 March 2013
Pirelli departed Melbourne knowing that its medium and supersoft tyres had performed just as they'd hoped and expected they would for the 2013 season-opening F1 Australian Grand Prix.
But the Albert Park circuit was a laid-back picnic compared to the torture that awaits the tyres at Sepang International Circuit in just a few days time, as the F1 roadshow hotfoots it from Australia to Malaysia for the second race of the season.
"We would describe Sepang as genuinely 'extreme'," admitted Pirelli's motorsports director Paul Hembery. "One of the most demanding weekends for our tyres that we experience all year."
The Sepang circuit is described as a fast track with long high-speed corners, and two of the longest straights on the F1 calendar. Added to that is the sweltering humidity, high ambient temperatures - and the threat of some absolutely torrential rain from typical late afternoon showers.
"It's likely to be weather that dominates the action," agreed Hembery. "Even when it isn't raining, the drivers can expect humidity in the region of 80 per cent and ambient temperatures of more than 30C."
No chance of the supersoft tyres turning out for duty in Malaysia, then. Instead, Pirelli will be offering teams the choice of hard prime tyres and medium options, the same as 2012. In a change to the cosmetic appearance of the tyres this season, the hard compounds will be sporting a new colour stripe to make them easier to make out on the broadcast coverage.
"For the first time we see our new orange hard compound in competition, with this colour chosen to make it more easy to distinguish from the white medium on television," said Hembery.
"The compounds themselves offer more performance and deliberately increased degradation this season," he added.
"We'd expect three stops again," he revealed. "Last year three stops proved to be the winning strategy in a mixed wet and dry race, with a thrilling finish between Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez that was all about tyres."
Pirelli called the Australian Grand Prix pretty much on the money, with Hembery predicting the optimal strategy which turned out to be pretty close to the actual approach to tyres and pit stops that Lotus used to boost Kimi Raikkonen to the race win.
Heading to Malaysia, it will be interesting to see if Hembery will be right again, and whether Lotus will once more be the team best placed to make their assignment of Pirelli tyres work for them on the light-footed E21; or whether it'll a case of the humidity and rain deciding matters at Sepang.
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