Tuesday March 19, 2013
Red Bull eye recovery in Malaysia
MELBOURNE: Red Bull are looking to Malaysia this weekend to kick-start their Formula One season after tyre problems blighted their early speed promise in Melbourne.
The Red Bulls of world champion Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were the quickest cars in qualifying and both started off the front row of the Australian Grand Prix grid last Sunday.
Yet three-time champion Vettel had to settle for third behind race winner Kimi Raikkonen in a Lotus and runner-up Fernando Alonso, driving a Ferrari.
Vettel laid the blame on tyre degradation while Webber, losing his grid advantage by getting off the line sluggishly, had issues with his car’s telemetry compounded by a below par pit stop as he finished in sixth.
Red Bull are expecting the tropical heat of the circuit in Sepang, just outside the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, to be more to the team’s liking.
“I think in the cooler conditions we weren’t in the optimum window with these tyres,” team principal Christian Horner said.
“We leave this race knowing we’ve got a good car and we’re looking forward to warmer temperatures in Malaysia.”
Raikkonen took out last Sunday’s race by a comfortable margin and, in an ominous statement for his rivals, said it was one of the easiest of his 20 career wins.
Prior to the race, when Red Bull locked up the front row on the grid, many observers were worrying about the potential for a season of Red Bull domination and the seeming inevitability of Vettel marching to a fourth straight championship.
Vettel said it was not the outcome he was expecting from the season-opening race at Albert Park after coming off pole.
“I think you’re always a little disappointed when you start first and don’t finish first, but overall it was a good weekend for us,” he said.
“We had a good day with a pole and a podium — but in the race we were a little too aggressive with the tyres and lost the front and the rears, while others did a little better.
“There are always areas where you can improve, but the result we got is fair.
“We didn’t see Kimi on the track, he was too quick and Fernando (Alonso) jumped us at a vulnerable time — but we can be happy with third,” Vettel added.
McLaren are another team looking to improve in Malaysia after taking just two points out of Melbourne.
Nothing went right for the eight-time world constructors’ champions and their number one driver Jenson Button could only finish ninth.
McLaren were off the pace in practice and qualifying and Button was well down the field throughout the 58-lap Melbourne race, while Mexican team-mate Sergio Perez finished out of the points in 11th.
The tropical heat may cure Red Bull’s tyre ills but the conditions will do little to improve the fortunes of McLaren, who are well off the pace of their usual rivals Red Bull and Ferrari and now seemingly some way behind Lotus and Mercedes.
McLaren chose to make major changes to their car design for 2013, while rival teams took a more conservative, evolutionary approach.
The logic behind the decision was that, while the team would struggle to get a full understanding of the car in the early races, it would have more room to improve in the latter half of the season.
But with another radical redesign required for the 2014 cars, to accommodate the switch to V6 turbo engines, McLaren chiefs would be wondering if it is worth the effort to put significant work and funds into the 2013 car if it is too far off the championship pace by the time the car is competitive.
The 2012 McLaren, who won the last two races of last season, are sitting back in the United Kingdom at the team’s Woking factory. With only minor adjustments, they would likely be much more competitive in the early races than is the current model.
Clearly there is no time to make such a switch before Malaysia, but team principal Martin Whitmarsh hinted there may be a major rethink of the approach sooner rather than later.
Asked after the Australian GP whether the team may revert to an updated model of the MP4-27 used in 2012, Whitmarsh said: “Not before this weekend that is for sure.”
“We are not too proud to say when we get things wrong, and we do occasionally. But for the time being we have to try and get some understanding and do the best job we can do going forward with this car as quickly as we can.
“It probably won’t be as quick as I’d like, or many people would like, but we think we can work this one out. But if we can’t, we will look at anything.” — Agencies