Tyres remain the talk of the paddock as teams look to solve early woes by pressuring Pirelli to revert to last year's rubber, writes Gary Meenaghan.
Formula One: Pirelli unfazed by criticism from Mark Webber and other drivers about new tyres
SEPANG // If talk of tyres is getting tiring, prepare for a long season. Before the second race of the year has even been contested, Pirelli, the official supplier to Formula One, has found itself becoming the paddock's most prominent topic of conversation.
The Italian company has created a new set of quick-wearing compounds for 2013 that has seen the tyres disintegrate on track.
And with some of the sport's strongest teams struggling to maximise the potential of their cars as a result, criticism is growing.
Mark Webber has been vocal in his disapproval of the direction the sport seems to be heading, saying things are now entirely "geared around tyres" and calling it "a bizarre situation".
Red Bull's Australian driver, who qualified fifth on Saturday, joked he would be trying to buy some new rubbers on the way to the track today, while his teammate Sebastian Vettel, despite finishing on pole, warned again that if the race takes place under wet conditions, he may not have enough tyres to last the duration.
"We know qualifying is an important part of the weekend," Webber said. "But it is not the most important part these days. When you drive the car, it is virtually tyre-conservation racing at the moment."
Adrian Sutil of Force India showed impressive pace to lead in the early exchanges of qualifying, however, once the rain started, he was unable to read the rubber in the new conditions and slipped down the field to eventually finish ninth quickest, almost four seconds off pole.
The German said he was capable of a top-five grid position, but "getting the tyre right is so important. It can make you a second faster or a second slower".
Fernando Alonso provided the counter to Red Bull's argument. The Spaniard starts from third today but knows with his team understanding the tyres better than his rivals, Ferrari are well-placed to benefit.
Meanwhile, Pirelli, who have supplied tyres to the series since 2011, are yet to sign an extension to their deal, which expires in December.
Paul Hembery, the company's motorsport director, said on Friday he was not concerned by the criticism.
"If we look back at the type of comments that you had at the start of the year when everyone is trying to find out where they are, it tends to start like this," Hembery said.
"Then it starts to move away when people get used to it. We had the most exciting [Australian Grand Prix] in years. Do you want us to make boring races?"