On Track Review : Melbourne Qualifying 2013

brought to you by TheJudge13 ‘on track correspondent’: James Parker

It’s strange isn’t it; Formula 1 is the most technologically advanced sport in the world, featuring the best drivers, in the fastest racing cars known to man, yet when the heavens open, chaos ensues more often than not, with track marshals having to resort to the most basic means of clearing water off the track – with brooms.

Albert Park - Water Sweeping 2013 Formula 1 QualifyingAside from my musings, it was rather ironic that the previous two weeks in Melbourne, had seen the temperature not drop below 30c with blaring sunshine bathing the track under a warm glow. Yet today, we find ourselves having to fight through the scraps we saw on track, as the first Qualifying session of the 2013 Formula 1 season was marred by storm clouds which saw track conditions deteriorate to a point where it was not deemed safe (both lighting and weather related reasons) for the cars to complete the full session.

There was controversy before we even began Q1, as the rain became a lot heavier towards the build up to the green flag. The start of qualifying was delayed by a full 20 minutes as track marshals scurried furiously onto the circuit to clear a lot of the standing water that the medical car had found, meaning directors had to resort a spot of bird watching in the process. After Medical car driver Alan Van Der Merwe had taken part in 3 laps around the glorious Albert Park, the decision was made by Charlie Whiting that the party could eventually get started.

Q1 was a very scruffy affair (as you might expect) with drivers rushing to get some respectable times on the board before the ever threatening rain was to fall even harder. Ross Brawn had sent both his drivers to the front of the queue, in order to maximise the most of the deteriorating track conditions, but it was Nico Rosberg who looked the most comfortable of the duo, easily outpacing his new team mate in the first exchanges going 8 tenths clear.

untitledHamilton, on the other hand looked to be fighting the car a lot in tricky conditions, having a few twitchy moments in the opening laps before dropping it in Turns 1 and 2 on his second timed lap. Spinning backwards into the barrier at slow speed, his W04 became beached on the wet grass, before reverse gear was found and he rejoined the action –albeit with a damaged end fence on his rear wing.

It was not exactly the easiest session for the rookies coming into the sport for 2013, and Caterham driver Gio Van Der Garde found himself without a front wing on his outlap as he clipped the barrier in Turn 5, it dangerously getting caught underneath the nose of his car, but he eventually retreated back to the pitlane. Turns 11 and 12 were considered the most treacherous, due to the painted black lines that ran across the racing line.

Ferrari driver Felipe Massa first had an extremely lucky escape, as he had a big moment coming out of the fast Turn 12 and hit the wall square on. The Brazilian I am sure is counting his lucky stars right now, as miraculously he span back on to the track free from suspension damage and with all 4 wheels pointing in the right direction.

Gutierrez however was not so lucky with only seconds left in Q1, as unlike Massa his Sauber car came into contact with the wall and was left stranded in the middle of the racetrack, causing numerous drivers to abandon hot laps in the dying seconds of the session.

Both Webber and Maldonado had high speed excursions over the grass into Turn 11, but it was the Venezuelan who was left infuriated, as the lack of Williams pace could not be masked by the wet conditions, and he declared his FW35 undriveable after being dumped out of Q1 sitting in 18th place behind the Sauber of Guttierez, but crucially ahead of the chasing “new teams” of Marussia and Caterham – making up the six absentees ahead of Q2.

untitledRosberg finished the session top of the time sheets with a 1m 43.380, but he had to fight for it after conditions improved sufficiently to allow drivers to bolt on the Intermediate boots. Both Button and Di Resta decided to make the jump first and the McLaren driver instantly topped the timesheets, giving the signal for the rest of the pack to follow.

However after the end of Q1, it was announced that the next session was to be delayed by a further 20 minutes, as a heavy rain shower was in the close vicinity, and the FIA thought it would be wise to let it pass first, before starting Q2. It left for more frustration from fans as the light was fading fast due to the ever present setting sun, and the longer the cars stayed in the garages, the greater the risk of the session being abandoned completely.

After the initial 20 minute period had passed, it was released by the FIA that Q2 would be delayed yet further by another 20 minutes, due to downpours getting ever heavier and track marshals unable to clear the sufficient standing water to continue. It left many concerned that it was indeed the final nail in the coffin for the first Qualifying session of 2013, and those worries were confirmed as 5 minutes later a statement from Charlie Whiting announced that Q2 and Q3 would be suspended until 11am Sunday morning – or for British folk 12pm Midnight tonight.

untitledIt ended up being a complete calamity and many fans evacuated the stands early surrounding Albert Park, knowing the inevitable was always going to happen after the initial delay post Q1. It means a claustrophobic schedule on race day for teams, akin to the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix, where the threat of a Typhoon forced Qualifying to adopt the same format.

The irony of the whole situation was that, by the time the session was confirmed to be cancelled, Qualifying would have almost certainly been over, leaving many fans scratching their heads as to why the FIA decided to delay the session due to the prospect of showers, when conditions post Q1 were no worse than when the Green light was released for the start of Qualifying itself.

It left for possibly one of the most frustrating Saturday’s for fans and teams alike, and it appears the sport as a whole is forever getting more and more safety conscious when it comes to wet conditions, leaving the irony of Bernie’s suggestion in recent years to place sprinklers on circuits as a good idea?

CRIKEY! Roll on Sunday…..

8 responses to “On Track Review : Melbourne Qualifying 2013

  1. Modern Risk free decision making is based on the possibility, not probability that something might happen. The Powers that Be simply decided if they let qualifying happen and there was a bad accident, it would be worse than disappointing a bunch of fans that make no difference to their bottom line. Indeed, from the teams point of view, I’m sure Q1 alone ate an unexpectedly large chunk of their budget, judging by the amount of carbon fiber laying trackside.

    • Hi Matt,

      Of course risk is always a factor in conditions like this, and needlessly sending drivers out in horrific conditions that are considered undriveable is something that should never be condoned.

      However, Formula 1 as a sport contains an element of risk, always, and a big accident could happen in dry conditions alike. This is where common sense comes into play, and it appears it was incredibly lacking during the early part of the session.

      I think everyone is in agreement that is was right to stop the session when the FIA did, however it were the delays beforehand that were far more clouded. Let’s be honest, conditions today were nothing like Japan 2010, or even Spa 98, Spain 96 or even Donnington 93.

      Wet weather has always been considered the biggest equaliser in Formula 1, however when drivers are robbed of that opportunity completely, like we saw today in conditions that were far from undriveable, it does raise a few questions – namely what do we stand now in terms of wet weather conditions in the sport?

  2. It was unbelievable how long Gutierrez stayed in the car without any medical staff coming to have a look

    • I want to believe they knew that he was OK and only waiting for the season to finish to get out of the car.

      • Maybe they are checking driver status through team radio now, but if not this was a much much bigger safety issue than the rain….

  3. Hi James, I understand what you are saying, my point being that the perceived PR disaster should something go wrong now outweighs sporting considerations in the minds of those making decisions, and more importantly, that those making those choices have no financial stake in appeasing the fans, since it is the venues that are on the hook, not the FIA. They are hardly the only ones to do so these days.

    Personally I think you are right, and I enjoy a good deluge in the middle of a race as much as the next fan, for exactly the reasons you state, but I think it unlikely for the reasons I stated above that we will see it as often.

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