Formula 1 teams are convinced that improving strategy calls will be the key factor going forwards if they are to make the most of the current Pirelli tires.
With an increased focus on the impact that Pirelli's 2012 tires are having on the racing, there have been some suggestions that the variability of performance this year is turning F1 into a lottery. However, a number of teams are convinced that the situation will soon settle down, and that the most important improvement teams must make is in understanding how to make race strategies work for them as the World Championship returns to Europe for the core portion of the season, starting with the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona on May 13.
Williams chief operations engineer Mark Gillan said: "I would not say it is a lottery, but strategy is becoming much more important - and reacting to the changes in the strategy is key. On the pit wall it runs at quite a pace coming up to the stops, and teams have to understand the degradation – is it wear-based or thermal-based? It is all about reaction."
Gillan also believes that there is now an increased reliance on the drivers to make a call, and to ensure they can predict when tires are past their useful life.
"The drivers are fundamental, because they are the sensors in the car and they have to spot when the tires are going. The trick is spotting when it happens, because drivers can be good at spotting when the problem happens. The key is doing it the lap before."
Ferrari's head of race operations Diego Ioverno says that the biggest complication this year is trying to time the first stop of the race, because of the dangers of getting trapped behind slower traffic.
"The biggest difference this year is that the field has become so compact – and it has become difficult to define the first pit stop time," he said. "It is nearly impossible to not fall behind traffic now.
"Last year, the top cars were going away and were able to stop in clear air, but now it is much more difficult. For us, it is harder because we [Ferrari] are not as quick as we would like."
Despite the wild variations in the competitive order this year, Ioverno does not expect the situation to remain so close for long. He thinks the bigger teams will be able to improve their cars more to edge clear at the front.
"I would expect in three or four races that the field will be more spread out," he said. "The top teams will go away and the others will stay the same, because the top teams can develop their car more. But, saying that, understanding tires is much more difficult this year, so anything may happen."
Lotus trackside operations director Alan Permane says teams are still trying to understand how best to exploit tires this year, because he says there are still performance differentials that do not make sense.
"In Bahrain, the tires were working for us and for Red Bull – but it is difficult to believe that it makes one-second-a-lap difference – because that is how much quicker we were than the others there," he said. "It cannot be all tires, but I don't think anyone really knows where they should be, otherwise they would all be doing it."