- Australian Grand Prix
Dry qualifying will see interesting strategies - Horner
Christian Horner is expecting a tight qualifying session in Australia on Saturday as the teams get to grips with the new tyres and the added pressure of two midfield drivers facing the cut after Q1.
One of the biggest talking points during pre-season testing was the degradation of the new Pirelli tyres and on Sunday tyre usage ahead of the race is expected to be a key factor. The teams are given six sets of tyres for qualifying and the race - three primes and three options - and will be eager to save as many fresh sets as possible to use in the race.
"I think the regulations are more stable and the biggest change is the tyre spec," Horner explained. "That's the same for everybody but I think there is nobody here who can tell you if it's going to be a one, two, three, four or five stop race on Sunday.
"What we saw in Barcelona is that degradation is pretty high, so the offset between one-lap performance and putting fuel in the car is quite significant. The trick as always is to consume as few tyres as possible and do the fastest lap you can in qualifying. It's going to be interesting to see what strategies people adopt in qualifying."
With HRT pulling out of the sport this year six cars rather than seven will now be knocked out in the first 20 minute session of qualifying. However, with only four backmarkers - two Caterhams and two Marussias - two midfield cars will also face the cut. This could see more of the midfield teams use the softer compound tyre in Q1, which in turn could force teams higher up the grid to use a set of their own softer tyres - especially in Australia where there is a gap of two compounds between the super-softs and mediums on offer.
"Q1 has an added pressure because two midfield cars are going to have to miss the cut, so people are going to be trying harder in Q1 because it's going to be harder to make sure you make that cut," Horner added.
As for the top ten, Horner said he had no idea whether Red Bull would be at the front of the pack or scrapping for ninth and tenth.
"In many respects neither would be a surprise," he said. "I think it's impossible to tell what the playing order is at the moment and maybe we won't see on Saturday if there's some rain around as well. It's probably going to take two or three races before we see a pattern emerge, but for sure the usual suspects are going to be competitive such as Fernando in the Ferrari, the Mercedes have looked quick over the winter, McLaren and the Lotus look competitive as well.
"It's going to be the usual suspects but this year the big difference is that the tyres are working slightly differently. How the car works its tyres over a single lap and over a race are going to be crucial factors."