The current set of bits in F1 certainly makes entertaining racing but also make it hard to follow what's going on, understand or report on, especially for the enthusiastic amateur, clearly even the professionals are struggling; yet how we used to moan when races were easy to follow, but processional!
Tyres were critical, but mostly when you fitted them and how quickly; the Scuderia having raised pit-stop speed to a whole new level. There were however still tyre management issues. Gradually it's emerging (largely thanks to Ross Brawn) that the Pirelli tyres have a very small operating temperature range. Too cold - no grip, too hot - ditto. The trick is to "switch them on" i.e. get them hot enough but not to overheat them. The trouble with this is that the same mechanical jiggery-pokery that heats them up is the same that overheats them!
This makes the balance between qualifying and racing especially difficult. For quali, the tyres must be "on" on the first flying lap, if it's the second they are already past their best. Yet the same set-up must work for the first part of the race (same tyres for the top ten and parc ferme for all remember) and not cause excessive degredation, all this with the added complication of minimal fuel for quali and a full load for the race!
In Oz the Mercs were good in quali but overheated their tyres in the race, so they jiggled the bit around for Malaysia anticipating hot weather, then it rained and their tyres remained switched off! It's interesting that in Malaysia the BBC race commentary had it that the Ferrari and Sauber were "easy" on their tyres and able to run long, but Ross said that Friday practice had revealed they were "very, very hard" on their tyres! I guess the latter makes sense in that the wet conditions meant the Ferrari and Sauber could get their tyres up to temperature, but did not burn them out, but if the Fazza and Sauber can get heat into their tyres, why were they so bad in quali (9th&12th, 10th&17th respectively)? I guess it could mean they were overheating their tyres in quali, but were just great in the wet conditions in the race.
We all know that a number of things affect all this like suspension geometry, set up and aero and driver input. Many older enthusiasts understand a bit of this. We know camber angles (the amount the wheels lean in at the top) used to be important and obviously still is because of Red Bull pushing them into the danger zone at Spa last year. It used to be things like camber change and scrub (track change) as the suspension moves up and down were important and still are, because we are told that Ferrari's win in Britain last year was due to their running a suspension that did more of the aforementioned, but their subsequent drop-off in form at high speed (!) places meant it would burn the tyres out. Then there's aero.
Stefano Domenicali: “Clearly we cannot be happy with a fifth place but, given how things went yesterday, Fernando’s result is a positive one. We knew that this weekend, the car we had was not the one we wanted going into this season. We know the main areas we need to work on – traction and top speed first and foremost – and we must accelerate as much as possible the development work to reach the level of the best as soon as possible.”
Felipe Massa: “This has been a really poor weekend for me. Already yesterday I suffered because the car was badly balanced and today, it was probably even worse, because after a few laps I was struggling with the tyres. We must work to understand why we could not reproduce the right balance on the car, as we had for example at the Barcelona tests.”