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Pre-Australia analysis - drivers upbeat but undecided 15 Mar 2013

Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 14 March 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 14 March 2013 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 14 March 2013 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 14 March 2013

None of the top drivers has any real idea what to expect as the long-awaited first official practice session of the 2013 Formula One season starts at Melbourne’s Albert Park on Friday.

McLaren’s Jenson Button summarised their views when he said: “We cannot draw any conclusions at all after the 12 days of pre-season testing. Last year the form from testing proved completely wrong at the first race, and though Mercedes have been very fast over one lap this year we know that it will be very different today and that they probably won’t set pole position and win every race. I’m sure, for example, that Red Bull aren’t really 2.5s slower, as they were in testing.”

Accurate calculation of rivals’ speed was rendered difficult in testing not just by factors such as fuel load - every 10 kilogrammes can add up to 0.35s to the lap time - and the fact that some cars were running heavier than others, but also by the high wear rates of Pirelli’s new tyres.

“The way in which they degrade is also going to be crucial,” Button confirmed, “and that has added to the difficulty we have all had in calculating where we stand against each other. Today we will at least start to get some real answers.”

Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg explained: “The new Pirellis are very different to their 2012 tyres. They slide at a certain angle and that’s where the grip is best, but they also degrade strongly and it’s a massive technical challenge for all of us to create a car that has less tyre degradation than everyone else. Last year that was one of our big weaknesses, but this year we have really improved.”

After Mercedes set the final pace in Barcelona, Lewis Hamilton admitted: “You can’t really take too much from the tests. So much depends on what other teams were doing with fuel loads.”

Hamilton expects Ferrari to be very strong, but Fernando Alonso said: “We’ll see. I think it was not difficult to start better than last year because it was difficult to start any worse. We were a little bit too far behind and the winter has been much better than the last year, understanding the car and working with the car and getting the results we more or less expect. That will give us much more confidence and optimism to start the season, but who knows.

"I think it will be a very interesting championship, very challenging first part of the championship with Australia and Malaysia. Difficult circuits, difficult weather as well - changeable. So we need to start on the right foot and hopefully score some good points for the championship.”

Sebastian Vettel, the man whose three titles he seeks to emulate, said that his recent success makes a difference as the meter is reset. “I think every year we start again from zero. I think everyone has the same chance. As we said, testing obviously this year was probably not as conclusive as previous years, so we arrive here not knowing what is going to happen. But I think it is very exciting so as every year, I’m excited to start.

“I think it’s going to be a long year. Obviously we’re looking forward to this weekend and this is the first of many. But I think we’ve seen in the last couple of years, last year in particular, that it’s a long season and every race is very important. So this is the place we start, but then there are many other places coming.”

Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen confessed, meanwhile: “It’s difficult to say where we are but we will see after maybe two or three races. We had a few small issues and unfortunately the issues just took a long time to fix. That happens. I think we should be okay. There are always things that can go wrong but I think we are more or less, speed wise, similar to where we were last year when we started and like I said it’s difficult to say exactly where we will be. We’ll see a bit tomorrow.”

With cooler temperatures here than anticipated, the tyre situation is expected to be even more critical.

“I think in winter testing we all suffered the same problem: the tyres didn’t last,” Vettel said. “It was extremely difficult for us to do a lot of laps on the same set of tyres, to test certain things. We hope it gets better here. Otherwise it could be quite funny.”

Whether everyone will see that side of things if that’s how it works out after FP1 and FP2 on Friday, remains to be seen.

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