Even Ross Brawn doesn't know how Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix might unfold
"It's going to be a very complex race," Mercedes boss says
By Mike Wise in Shanghai
Last Updated: 14/04/13 5:56am
Qualifying at the Shanghai International Circuit showed just how much teams are needing to have their wiles about them this weekend, with the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button lapping on the medium Pirelli tyre during the final session whilst all the other frontrunners opted for the much faster, but far more brittle, soft compound.
The latter seem set to make only a fleeting appearance on Sunday, with the likes of Brawn's own drivers, polesitter Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who lines up fourth, appearing destined to pit during the first few laps.
That will probably clear the way for the likes of Button, but he will be forced on to softs later on. Vettel, meanwhile, heads those with a free tyre choice after failing to set a time during Q3.
Factor in such variables as an evolving track, a warmer weather forecast and the possibility - albeit one that sounds unlikely - of running a two-stop race, and what emerges is a conundrum that even master tactician Brawn is approaching with caution.
"I think it's going to be a very complex race tomorrow," he said on Saturday. "We don't really know what we've got. The work we've done on Friday and today obviously helps a lot to try and understand what we've got to do but it'll open up in one direction or another.
"The option has a pretty short life. I think we'll be on primes for the main part of the race and we've got two very strong competitors in the top ten, maybe three with (tenth-placed Nico) Hulkenberg starting on the prime, and they're going to be leading the race for a while.
"It's going to start to evolve from there. It's going to be a very interesting race and of course those of us on the soft tyre will drop back into groups and we'll be picking holes in the traffic and all that type of thing.
"I think it's going to be a really great race tomorrow. It's one which we need to be completely on top of - we know what we need to do - and even on the prime tyre you can't go flat-out for 20 laps - you've got to manage the situation as well."
Brawn added: "The difficulty is, we don't know what track we've got. This is a track that changes a lot and we've got a pretty warm day tomorrow by all accounts. The race is starting at 3 and all our practice has been earlier than that.
"We've got information. It's about understanding the relevance of that information once we get into the race tomorrow when the track will be evolving again."
After a promising start to the season, Mercedes have appeared strong throughout the weekend so far and Brawn said that was why they opted not to go down the route chosen by Vettel, Button et al.
"With both drivers we were in a pretty competitive position. There's a set of calculations that tells you what should be the best strategy and if tyres work out the way we expect then we're comfortable with the strategy we've got," he said.
"Also, quite frankly, starting ninth or tenth is a risky situation. There's always a risk at the start of a race and there's more risk the further back you go."
The track appears something of a favourite for the Silver Arrows, who of course won the Chinese Grand Prix last year with Rosberg behind the wheel.
What certainly helped on that occasion was the car's main deficiency - a tendency to eat its rear tyres - being masked by the SIC's long corners, which places more of an emphasis on having good front-end grip.
However, Brawn doesn't think another strong showing 12 months on with the W04 would necessarily be a case of history repeating itself.
"I think this car has actually been quite good at all three circuits (so far this season). Our car last year was rear tyre-limited and this is not a rear-tyre limited circuit. Nico was able to use the car very well last year and achieve the result," he added.
"But I think, this year, it's not quite as strong. The tyres are pretty marginal front and rear. I think we've just got a good car we can work with, a car we can balance, and we'll keep developing it."