Australian Grand Prix qualifying: What went wrong?

Debates and PollsPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Paul di Resta, Force India, Melbourne, 2013Instead of setting up the first race of the season, the first qualifying session of 2013 gave us one-quarter of a grid and two hours of sodden marshals sweeping water around.

This is the third time an F1 qualifying session has been postponed. It happened twice previously at Suzuka in 2004 due to the approaching typhoon Ma-On and again three years ago due to heavy rain.

Could it have been avoided? Or are occasional disruptions to sessions unavoidable?

Race control: Too cautious?

The rain grew heavier and lighter at different stages causing first Q1 and, later Q2, to be repeatedly delayed. The start of the session was held up by half an hour and the beginning of Q2 was delayed by a further hour before being postponed until tomorrow.

The chief concerns in wet weather are visibility and aquaplaning. When the cars took to the track for Q1 it was clear the conditions were challenging: Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Giedo van der Garde, Charles Pic and Esteban Gutierrez all crashed during the 20 minutes of running.

Some tracks are better equipped to cope with heavy rain than others. Temporary venues such as Albert Park do not have the advantage of being custom-designed to aid drainage and pose other hazards such as painted lines on the surface which become slippery when wet.

All this, as well as input from Medical Car driver Alan van der Merwe who made regular inspections of the course, will have factored into the decisions taken by the FIA’s Charlie Whiting. But some believe the sport has become overcautious when it comes to risk management.

Start time: Too late?

The Australian Grand Prix start time was moved back to 5pm in 2009 so the race would be broadcast at a less inconvenient time for audiences in Europe. Qualifying is held at the same time.

However this leaves little room for manoeuvre if the session is disrupted. With sunset due at 7:38pm, as the rain delay wore on it became increasingly clear that poor visibility due to falling light levels would be a problem.

The stewards cited “inclement weather conditions and the failing light” as reasons for the postponement. Had the session started earlier in the day there would have been a larger window in which there might have been good enough weather to hold qualifying.

Qualifying format: Too complicated?

Although qualifying was not run in its entirety, all 22 cars did take to the track and set times. Why then, is this not sufficient to form a grid?

The regulations do not allow the times for Q1 to be used to form the grid. This is fair and logical, as drivers are compete in it with the goal of progressing into Q2, not necessarily to achieve the best possible lap time.

But the point remains that if the qualifying format were less complicated – if, say, a single hour of qualifying were used as was the case in 1993-2002 – the limited amount of running the cars were able to do today could have been sufficient to form a grid.

Over to you

How do you think F1 should respond to qualifying being postponed? Which solutions do you prefer?

Or was F1 simply the victim of bad luck? Have your say in the comments.

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121 comments on “Australian Grand Prix qualifying: What went wrong?”

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  1. It’s just weather. Not a lot you can do but just weather it. It’s a postponed qualifying session, hardly something to get upset about. Disappointing, yes, but I’d guess a lot more disappointing for the teams and drivers than for us.

    We’ll get over it, worse things have most definitely happened…

    1. Yeah, and it’s not like they’ll run out of time from 11am tomorrow.

      I like the late starts, it’s easier for you guys to see it, and it gives the aussies to go straight to the pub after quali and still be able to get up for the race the following afternoon!

      1. Lucky for some eh? I decided to stay up all night given P3 was on 3-4am here. Was very disappointed that having gone to the effort of staying up it got postponed. I know there was nothing they could do, but it’s gonna mess with my sleeping pattern and it wasn’t really worth it.
        At least tonight it’ll be at midnight so I can grab a few zzz’s before the race.

    2. The Next Pope
      16th March 2013, 11:20

      The most sensible comment I have read for today, my hats off to you sir.

    3. For me it’s quite ok, so I can see quali session tonight at mid-night, as I didn’t wake up at 6.00 am in the morning. As it had been said “it’s just weather”, nothing to be worried about. But they should cast the start of the race for 16:00pm local time, it’ll be always a risk if any delay arises.

    4. For this weekend, yes: it’s just weather and get over it. The thing is that we are talking about future races: do we want the same thing to keep happening or do we want things to change?

      1. This track is a regular street circuit and not designed primarily as a F1 track so has no adequate drainage and on top of that the black paint used to cover the white paint use for normal traffic turned out to be the cause of many of the spins and you would not find it on a regular racing track so this turn of event would not happen on many other circuits.

  2. The start time is a factor, but the main issue is that F1 has become too cautious in responding to wet weather. It is not necessary to throw the red flags at the first sight of rain; drivers should be trusted to drive according to the conditions. They certainly have the ability to do so.

    1. +1 And more cars on track will dry the circuit faster

      1. +1 also if the australian race started at 11am (midnight for uk) thats easy to stay up for. its at a good time for american audiences too. and is still fine for australia its self.

        And gives breathing space for moments like today.

    2. It’s a GLOBAL event, it is allways going to be inconvenient for some-body, what’s OK for EU is lousy for USA East (+Canada) so LOCAL time that allows for delays should be the rule.

  3. I’d like to see a clause in the regs that states any time qualy is stopped, for whatever reason, the results AT THAT POINT will be used to form the grid.

    Keep the three stage qualy though, it rocks!

    1. +1 We would have the grid right now!!!!

      1. +1 It would also increase running. would risk NOT going out if it would mean starting from the back? Is there any reason why Q3 shouldn’t be a basis for the grid? Why not drive the car as fast as you can?

    2. I don’t think anybody would want a return of old-style qualifying. After trying out different formats I think F1 has found a format that works and provides excitements through full hour instead of a yawn-fest for a first 45 minutes.

      1. JimmyTheIllustratedBlindSolidSilverBeachStackapopolis III
        16th March 2013, 20:40

        Absolutly agree. Btw does anyone know if maldonado actually hit that bird during his off?

        1. It escaped.

  4. Starting the afternoon sessions early would be a start. Even though that would mean changes in the already stretched TV schedules all over the world, at least such a situation would be avoided. Anyway, now it’s all haywire, so the payoff is worse. You cannot have the cake and eat it too.
    I have no problems with the current quali format, but they could have shortened the sessions slightly for this special case where we were running out of daylight.
    As for the overcautiousness of Race Control, well, I think we’ve had sessions under green flags in worse conditions before. Yep, cars will crash, spin, run off, but doesn’t that always happen. It’s not that everybody were having problems.
    Overall, keeping in mind the incessant 20-minute promises, things could have been handled better.

  5. The problem is that there were clear windows of light rain but due to the notification requirement they need to give the teams they kept missing the clearest parts if the weather. We even had sun on us at one point.

    1. @theoddkiwi True. Instead of giving those stupid 20-minute promises, they should’ve given a 5 minute flag warning within with all teams would have to get ready to get their cars out.

  6. Not really an issue for me, disappointing yes but doesn’t bother me too much.

    Much prefer this start time though, wouldn’t get up in the middle of the night to watch it!

    1. Allright for you George but what about the people on Americas E seabord, a large and important market F1 is trying to woo, cancellation was due to light, the lack thereof, caused by Bernie forcing the promoters to start late so EU and UK viewers wouldn’t have to get up early to watch live.

      1. Michael Brown (@)
        16th March 2013, 16:45

        @HoHum I live in Eastern Canada. For this race and the Asian races I get up at 2am. For most European races I get up at 7am. That’s probably one of the obstacles keeping F1 from truly winning over the American audience, but I don’t mind it; it’s a World Championship (yet catered to Europeans).

  7. The only problem, this time around, was that the stewards thought there was too much water on track, whilst several shots showed indeed puddles here and there, but the track as a whole was not too wet to race. There were several crashes but many drivers did not crash. If the reasoning was that with 5 rookies spinning around on track the situation was dangerous then fine, but not only was that not the case as Bianchi and Chilton weren’t shown spinning, but race control admitted the weather was too bad. Why did Alonso, Button and Vettel not spin? Surely there’s a speed at which you won’t spin. If the weather requires you to lap over three minutes, then that should be it. Those spinning were taking too many risks and pushing over the limit, so that was their fault. Those who took no risks still passed through to Q2, so that shows that what they did was enough.

    1. No, the problem was darkness, not on TV but in reality on the track.

    2. I can assure you watching from turn 2 everyone slide about at one point or another. Button had a big slide, and vetted almost went on the grass too

  8. Chris (@tophercheese21)
    16th March 2013, 10:24

    The stewards made the decision to run the first qualifying session because the conditions were good enough, and postponed Q2 and Q3 because they weren’t.

    If its only happened 3 times in almost 10 years, then I don’t see anything wrong with postponing it.

    You can’t control the weather, so just work around it.

    On the plus side, it gives us a double dose of Formula 1 tomorrow :)

    1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
      16th March 2013, 10:26

      Also, I’m all for the qualifying format in today’s F1. Much better than the hour long session.

    2. Exactly. There’s been great (hot) weather here lately. It’s just bad timing there’s a cold front passing Melbourne today. There’s no need to change anything. It’s just bad timing, but great for tomorrow’s spectators Q2, Q3 & Race

    3. Yes it’s only happened three times in ten years, but it has become increasingly frequent.
      Quality wasn’t cancelled in the first 54 years of the championship, though admittedly there were plenty of times when no one set times on Saturday due to rain after a dry Friday quality.
      Brazil 2009 could potentially be shown in this mix, as it took over 3 hours to complete quality then.

      1. Yes it’s only happened three times in ten years, but it has become increasingly frequent.

        First it was six years between occurrences (2004 – 2010). Then it was three (2010 – 2013). At that rate of progression, we should have another quals session rained out sometime in 2015.

        I think the sport will survive.

  9. I had a power failure here in India due to heavy rain the previous day. So, couldnt watch quali. This is what I believe: The session must continue no matter what because it leaves open doors to an unexpected lineup. With race control being too cautious, it leaves us with a very predictable quali tmrw :(

    1. Ben (@scuderia29)
      16th March 2013, 14:12

      i wouldnt like to predict whats going to happen aha

      1. very hard to refraing frm predictions when playing F1F predictions championship @scuderia29

        1. Ben (@scuderia29)
          16th March 2013, 18:16

          its just you said the qualifying is now very easy to predict..
          i would hate to try and predict it since weve seen very little to guess exactly where the cars are going to be in terms of pace

  10. I live in Europe, and still I hate this fuss about pandering to European audiences.

    Anyone who bothers enough and feels the need to watch the qualy/race live is going to watch it even at an earlier time.

    Anyone who does not bother enough will watch the replay later in the day.

    This setup is favorable primarily to those, who want their fix of F1 live but are not willing to get up early even during a weekend (when they could sleep it off immediately afterwards).

    That is, basically, the “I want the best of both worlds” crowd. I say, to hell with them.

    (Sure, getting up at, say, 4:00 in the morning instead 7:00 would be a bit more inconvenient, but perfectly manageable. Now I have a qualy till 2:00 AM, then a race starting at 7:00 AM. Great!)

    1. I completely agree with you, and equally dislike this modern “I want everything my way, ’cause I deserve it, ’cause I’m special!!”-attitude. What’s so special about European audiences that we must be spoiled at the expense of the people in who’s town the race is held? Surely the people of Singapore dislike the late evening war zone that their city is turned into. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the special flavour a night time race like SG adds to the circus, but if it’s made to pamper the European audience then I think it’s done for the wrong reason. It is completely unnecessary and, in my opinion, a lost opportunity.

      Some of my best memories are of me and my brother sneaking around the house at midnight to watch the season opener that was Melbourne when the old folks specifically told us not to do so. In a way I feel sad for the young people(if there are any) watching today. They don’t know what it’s like to watch your favourite driver pull off some amazing moves and then be unable to sleep because the race was so awesome.

      1. +1 I’ve been up for the Australian GP every year since 96′ when I was 4 years old. It was always my job to wake up the rest of the house to come down and watch it. That was most of the thrill about it for me, first race of the season, no one knows what’s gonna happen and you’re sitting around a rubbish TV with the family looking half dead trying to pump as much caffeine in themselves as they can drink. Now I’m getting older I usually stay up all night and sleep after Quali/Race and there’s no need to find something to keep me up cause I’m just brimming with excitement.

      2. Yes, it’s always a big happening for being awake during the night to watch a F1 grand prix. I’m doing this since I remember and it’s weekend so you can deal with it and make all the adjustments on your daily routine. And for sure they cannot please everybody by trying to fix a world wide time zone.

      3. Since qually was starting at 2am here, not the 11pm it used to be before Bernie forced the organisers to delay it for EU, I set my PVR to record it and planned to watch it over breakfast, but my mind woke me up at 3.30 am and I could not get back to sleep knowing it was there to watch, so not much sleep last night and I will have to get up really early tomorrow so I can watch Q2-3 before race and still get to 10am Sunday breakfast with friends, so no sympathy for EU here.

        1. Michael Brown (@)
          16th March 2013, 16:55

          That’s why some are pushing for a night race – for the European audience.

    2. Totally agree, the race should be run at the best time of day for that country. There should not be a problem to a true fan watching at any time of the day.

      Lets hope that next week is ok, don’t want a repeat of 2009.

      1. I couldn’t agree more but unfortunately they must pander to the pay-masters as it costs a few quid to run the show.
        I’m guessing this matching of start time to a more ideal time in the Eurozone is because that’s the biggest audience – which in itself doesn’t surprise me – and so the advertising revenue is higher.

        I do miss the days of sitting there at 3am (and various other time slots) as the only hardcore F1 fan in the household. It always felt special. Then when the race was over I would go for a blast around the wonderfully quiet empty roads.

        1. @psyng, the paymasters would really like some US coverage, how do they expect to gain US fans if everything is designed around convenience in the EU.

    3. The Australian Grand Prix start time was moved back to 5pm in 2009 so the race would be broadcast at a less inconvenient time for audiences in Europe.

      That really ****** me off, always. Eve since they got the race to start later in the day, it’s been a problem. With the weather-sensitive cars of today it’s a big mistake to have such a tiny window of manouvre (forget about reaching that 4 hour limit… the AUstralian GP has a self-imposed 2, 2 and a half hour limit because of sunset) just because the Europeans can watch the race “a little bit more comfortable”.

      People all over the world wake up at 2, 3, 4, 5 to watch the Aus, Malasyan, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian Grand Prix. Why can’t the European too? not to mention the Aussies themselves have to wake up at ridiculous hours or stay up late to watch the race at a very uncomfortable time and THEIR GP gets moved so it fits the European schedule just fine.

    4. @ MJ4. I completely agree. I got up early this morning and sat here in dressing gown (plus tea and toast) with the BBC radio coverage and the F1 Fanatic web site and enjoyed it. I’ll be here again at midnight with a glass or two of plonk; it’s fun.
      With races around the world, timing is always going to be inconvenient for someone. Tough, deal with it. And I do think the Australian organisers might start Qualy an hour earlier next year. Light levels are important if there is any delay at all.

      1. I’m an European and I completely agree – on weekends I usually sleep in so I had to get up earlier for qualifying anyway. Before 2009 I would get up for 4 am start just like today I got up at 7 am start. F1 is a global sport and those few races that start at inconvenient time aren’t that much of a bother for me – especially in the case of Malaysia where late starts have so far guaranteed a race-stopping amount of rain.

    5. I’m in the UK and i would get up at whatever time the session is on, i literally dont care if its 7am or 2am.

  11. Let’s go through them one-by-one:

    I don’t think the race stewards are over-cautious: Q1 was pure madness. In my opinion, a session should be stopped the weather conditions make drivers (who are driving relatively cautiously) lose control of their car. One of those crashes we saw could have had more serios consequences than just some front wing damage, so the argument “drivers should be able to handle the conditions” is just nonsense.

    The starting time is just too late. I understnad that it might attract a few more people to watch it, but with the risk of postponing qualifying or worse the race being cancelled, it just isn’t worth it.

    Finally the qualifying format: I quite like the current system, as it creates more anxiety and also results in more attention for the smaller teams, without affecting the results too much. It does create problems like the one we have discovered today. In my opinion, the qualifying format should stay the way it is.

  12. They need to put the race before one section of viewers, view times.

    Running a successful event without messing the rest of the world around is more important in my opinion.

  13. I don’t think the qualifying format can be blamed. In the 60 minute format the best drivers and teams used to do their best times at the end of the qualifying. So forming a grid after 30 minutes of driving would be as unfair as forming a grid after Q1.

    I think it’s the combination of running the qualifying too late and being too cautious about the weather that is to blame.

    I don’t think there is any reason running qualifying later for European viewers. Only fans will view the qualifying anyway if it starts 5am or 7am on Saturday so I think it makes little difference. The race itself is a bit different thing.

    Then again I think Formula One is too cautious about the weather nowadays. I admit that sometimes the weather is so bad that it becomes too much of a safety risk, but most of the time crashing when wet means basically that the driver drove too fast considering the weather and his skill level. Or in other words, he made a mistake. However, most of the fans love to watch wet qualifying/race even if the cars will go a lot slower than on dry.

    1. … but most of the time crashing when wet means basically that the driver drove too fast considering the weather and his skill level. Or in other words, he made a mistake.

      Take the crashes at turn 12: Massa and Guttierez spun when their car hit the black line and there was absolutely nothing they could do about it, nor were they too ambitious. In my opinion, when the conditions make drivers lose control when he is driving at normal speed, then that’s just plain dangerous. F1 is a dangerous sport, and when drivers crash randomly, then the session should be stopped.

      1. Guttierez and Massa spun because they put their foot down. In these conditions, you have to be prepared for the fact that you could hit a white line or a puddle or other hazard and drive accordingly. If the drivers are accelerating in the wet without being sure then that’s their problem. Also, if it was really that bad we would have seen more cars spin at that point.

        I do accept that painting over white lines is an accident waiting to happen, though.

  14. For sure the situation could’ve been handled better, but that is easy to say in hindsight.

    As for point number 3, the current qualifying system is very good I think – it forces people to run in each session as apposed to a whole hour where they may only run in the last 10 minutes. It also adds an element of pressure and helps to prevent unnecessary traffic in the top-10 shoot-out, so the current system is sound and should remain. It is only in very adverse circumstances (such as today) that it may have shortfalls, but the benefits more than account for this.

  15. I have no problem with postponing Quali to Sunday morning although one wants to see a result at the time. It gives me another opportunity to look forward to more F1 viewing.

  16. it was quali so no need to take unnecessary risks. Also it’s the first race of the year and on a street circuit that lacks all the things a regular track has to cope with wet weather (drainage, even surface, no white lines in the middle of corner exits etc.)
    If guys like Hamilton, Massa and Webber have troubles to stay on track then it’s on the limit and no need to go thru with it if there is the possibility to postpone it.

  17. If I was re-writing the rule today, my plan of action would be:
    Once the sessions has started, it cannot be postponed due to weather conditions, it is either finished but in the extreme conditions like today, the grid is based on the latest result, therefore the grid is all based on times set in the same or very similar conditions.
    If it is deemed unsuitable to qualify, the entirety of qualifying should be postponed to the next day then at least everybody gets to qualify in the same conditions and can take an equal fight to each position.

  18. David not Coulthard (@)
    16th March 2013, 11:00

    3.If you want to change it, looks like somebody’s got an opinion about it , 0:15 .

  19. One of the problems that has been highlighted is the fact the ground clearance is insufficient in wet conditions: the tyres can displace the water fine, but the cars aquaplane on the skid blocks when there is a sufficient volume of standing water allegedly. If that is the case, it’s a simple solution of making bigger radius tyres, which would prevent so many offs occurring.

    1. wets are of a bigger diameter to raise the car

      1. @lebesset – they do, but it’s minimal. I like the thinking behind that @hohum and it may also solve the following in dirty air problem, but I’d only like that idea if it did indeed solve the aero problem. Then we could get rid of DRS also…

    2. Maybe the rules should demand a more realistic ground clearance for all races and bigger tyres to compensate for lack of downforce.

  20. I’d also like to see wet weather tires that can handle more water on the track. I just don’t understand how in the past they had races and qualifying in much wetter conditions than these days. I did find that Bridgestone tires in 2010 could displace 61 litres per second at 300 km/h while Pirelli in 2011 did 60 litres at the same speed. So a small change to the worse but not significant. I wonder what the tires could displace 10-15 or 20 years ago.

    Btw, @keithcollantine do you know how many races that have been delayed in the past 10 years? It may be just 3 qualifying sessions but I’m sure a lot of races have been affected by the overcautiosness too.

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