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Racing into the unknown: Albert Park’s annual challenge

F1’s top drivers admitted on Thursday that they are racing into the unknown at this weekend’s Rolex Australian Grand Prix.

Led by defending drivers’ World Champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, the top men said that they have little idea of how the new extra-soft Pirelli tyres will perform when run in warm, or hot conditions, for the first time.

After weeks of European winter testing in low temperatures, they agreed that the new compounds of rubber did not last long – and may cause unpredictable problems before and during Sunday’s 58-lap race.

“We all suffered from the same problem,” said the 25-year-old German, referring to recent test sessions in Spain. “The tyres just did not last. I hope it is better here – if it is not, it could be quite funny!”

Spaniard Fernando Alonso, of Ferrari, agreed with the three-time champion. “Let’s hope it is different to the tests with the (warmer) temperatures here.”

Tyre-makers Pirelli have brought a supply of their new P Zero White medium and P Zero Red super-soft compounds to Albert Park.

They are reported to be softer and faster than last year’s tyres and two, or three, pit stops per car are expected in the race on the traditionally low-grip track surface.

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “Cold weather in testing meant we weren’t able to showcase them, but we are expecting a different story here.

“From what we have observed, the field is closer than ever and the drivers should not ice a wider working range and a bigger window of peak performance.”

He added that the two compounds chosen for this race would present the teams with a challenge in terms of tyre management and strategy.

Tyre performance is likely to be a critical factor this season with no changes in regulations. This year’s cars are essentially evolutions of those run in 2012.

Torro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, who joined fellow-Australian Mark Webber of Red Bull and Mercedes’ new recruit Briton Lewis Hamilton, 2007 World Champion Kimi Raïkkönen, Vettel and Alonso at a pre-race news conference, said he sensed an opportunity to create an upset in the opening races while teams became accustomed to the new rubber.

“I am really looking forward to it more than anything,” he said. “We are all in the same boat now so it’s exciting.”

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