BARCELONA, May 09, 2013 (AFP) - Formula One's leading teams face a race against time to understand the latest generation of Pirelli tyres this weekend when they return to action at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Defending triple world champions Red Bull who lead this year's title race admitted on Thursday that they are struggling to find the best balance between outright pace and preserving their tyres in race conditions.
As the F1 circus began arriving at the Circuit de Catalunya for the first European round of the 2013 season, following four 'flyaway' events in Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain, Red Bull boss Christian Horner said: "Our biggest problem is the tyres.
"Our biggest challenge is going to be developing and understanding these tyres. We have a good car, a very good car, but at the moment, the tyres are a predominant factor in F1.
"It is a different type of racing because it is a matter of achieving longevity with the tyre and ultimate pace is not the crucial factor.
"So it is about adjusting -- as we had to adjust going from Bridgestones to Pirellis, from refuelling to no refuelling, from blown diffusers to no blown diffusers - and I am entirely confident that we will adapt.
"But it is going to take time and in Formula One there is never enough time!"
Red Bull may lead the way, but the title fight remains finely poised with the chasing pack in the form of Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes all harbouring optimism that they have the necessary performance upgrades to challenge for victory in Sunday's 66-laps contest.
Mercedes, however, have also admitted they are struggling with their rear tyres and Lotus are seeking answers to problems created by their car's failure to keep a consistent balance in qualifying.
After a troubled start to the year, McLaren are hoping to return to more competitive form on a track they understand well after long sessions of pre-season testing in Spain.
"We are not expecting anything, but we are hoping we may start to go in the right direction," said 2009 world champion Jenson Button, who is back in action after his on-track wheel-banging battle with team-mate Sergio Perez last time out in Bahrain.
All of the teams have studied their tyre-performance data carefully and will be testing a raft of new aerodynamic developments for their cars in the hope that they can improve by a few tenths of a second here and there.
In a sport where marginal gains can be decisive, and where tyre performance can change from lap to lap in differing conditions, it all leaves the outcome of Sunday's contest as difficult to forecast.