Sebastian Vettel says he and Red Bull Racing shouldn't be threatened by the uncertainty that new rules have introduced, as he begins his title defense at this weekend's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
With the form guide more difficult to predict than ever thanks to the complications caused by Pirelli tire degradation, the return of KERS and the introduction of movable rear wings, F1's leading men have been reluctant to make any bold predictions about their form just yet. But Vettel says that Red Bull has every reason to feel confident as it heads into the Albert Park event after what it has repeatedly to have been its best winter of preparations.
"There is uncertainty maybe to know where you are compared to the others, certainly," said Vettel. "We've never had that before, when you would have played with just the typical things like fuel loads.
"This time some people brought their [aerodynamic] packages earlier or later. Then, apart from fuel loads which, with no refueling, means they can vary from zero to 160kg or more, there are the tires which, depending on their state, new or used, and then with a couple of laps of use or quite a few, you can throw another couple of seconds in that. It means it can all mix up, and that is what we have seen in the tests. And that is why it has been so difficult to read how strong the others are.
"But, uncertainty for ourselves? We don't need to be afraid of that, because I think we know what we have done and we should be in good shape. Now it is just the question to be answered of how we compare relative to the others."
Vettel appeared at a promotional event at a cattle farm outside Melbourne on Wednesday. The German tried his hand at shearing a sheep, as well as commanding a sheep dog, as he got a taste of Australian farm life. Although appearing timid with the shears for fear of hurting the sheep, he said it would be a different approach when he got down to work at the track.
"I will not be as shy as today, as I know what I am going to do," he said about his feelings going into the Australian GP. "We had a good winter and we did lots of kilometers. We didn't really have big problems with the car, we just had some small issues, but nothing major. The winter we had was the best we have had so far.
"But in terms of how we are relative to others is a bit more difficult to say, because there are some new things on everybody's car, and some new regulations plus new tires, so it is a bit difficult to find out where exactly you are. But that is why we come here to find out on Saturday at the latest."
"I think we all know that we start from zero again," he added. "I know I have zero points as well, like everybody else. I might have the number one on my car but that is about what was going on last year, and it doesn't make me any faster this year. I still have to work hard and squeeze every last bit out of the car to make sure we run at the front."