Formula 1 races are going to be "turned upside down" in 2011 by the impact of Pirelli's new tires, reckons Mercedes GP team principal Ross Brawn.
Ahead of the opening race of the season in Australia this weekend, Brawn thinks grand prix weekends will pan out totally different to how they have in the past – and that it may not become clear until the final stages of the race about who has actually done the best job.
"What is going to happen this year is the races are going to be less predictable, and the results will get turned around a lot more because of the tires," Brawn said. "It won't only be the effect of the tires either, as it will be the situations they create, like the safety cars. The whole thing will be turned upside down and certainly, for the first half of the season, people will be trying to find the right equilibrium."
There is much uncertainty about how the pit stop strategy is going to play out, with the advantage of coming in early to leapfrog other cars with new tires needing to be balanced against the need of having enough laps left in the tires for the final stint. Brawn thinks there is more opportunity in 2011 for clever teams to overcome faster opposition.
"I think the faster cars can be beaten by the sharper team," he said. "If you have the fastest car and you fluff it, you will get beaten. It is not as easy as it was.
"I think last year if you had the fastest car and didn't make a mistake, you wouldn't get beaten. This year, the potential to get it wrong is much higher. Of course, the teams that are less quick will probably take more chances in terms of the tire strategy, in terms of what they want to try and do, so they may come back. We are all intrigued to see what is going to happen."
Brawn thinks that the right approach may well not become clear until the very last laps of the race, and certainly will not be seen in qualifying.
"If you use too many tires in qualifying to get up the grid, you are going to be penalized in the race," he said. "Because you will then have to use used tires all the time. The guys who find the right balance between what they use in qualifying and what they use in the race will be the strongest. It is not necessarily good to be on pole position if you have used lots of tires to get there."
He added: "Where it will accumulate is the end of the race. If you come in early you are going to be much faster on new tires, but how many times can you do that? If you are the one who is coming in early then in the end you will stop three or four laps earlier than people at the end of the race, and unless you make another stop at the end of the race you are going to run out of tires. So it is a very fine balancing act.
"It may seem obvious that you want to be the one who stops first all the time, and it may well get you ahead of the pack in the middle, but if you have to do an extra pit stop or you have got nothing left at the end – there is no point. So it is quite a fine balance."