Did Pirelli help Red Bull on their way to both titles?

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Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery has rejected the idea that the changes made by the Italian tire manufacturer during the season changed the direction of the 2013 Formula One world championship.

Following a series of issues with the initial design of tire, Pirelli were forced into making changes that came into effect at the German Grand Prix after a safety concern arose at Silverstone. Since then, Sebastian Vettel has won eight of the last nine races, leading many to suggest that Red Bull’s competitive advantage grew thanks to the alterations. However, Hembery explained to the official Formula One website that he does not believe that the team’s achievements should be understated.

“Nobody knows the real answer,” he said. “Yes, Red Bull was leading before we made the change – they’ve always been quick in qualifying but suffered in the race. Mercedes were always quick in qualifying and suffered in the race and Lotus were always very competitive in the race, so there are a lot of factors that haven’t changed at all, and that’s all we can say.

“You could pretty much guarantee that Red Bull Racing would have won after all the changes they’ve made after the summer break and the way the tires have been used by them. They’ve done a very good engineering job in the second part of the season, as they always do. The way they work and develop right to the end, they need to get some credit sometimes for the fantastic job the team has done around Sebastian.”

Many teams have cited the tire changes as being decisive in their season, with Force India particularly appearing to struggle whilst Sauber have made great strides forward. An investigation by MotorSportsTalk writer Keith Collantine suggests that the case for Red Bull benefitting from the tire changes is certainly well-reasoned, but it is also worth noting that Vettel’s fine run of form actually started before the alterations. He finished in second place at the Monaco Grand Prix before winning in Canada, and he would have won the British Grand Prix had it not been for a gearbox failure.

So although the tire changes may have aided Red Bull, they should not overshadow the incredible effort by Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel across the second half of the 2013.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.