Australian Grand Prix qualifying: What went wrong?

Debates and Polls

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?

  1. TMF (@tmf42) said on 16th March 2013, 10:55

    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.

  2. Kazuki (@formula-1) said on 16th March 2013, 10:56

    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.

  3. David not Coulthard (@) said on 16th March 2013, 11:00

    1.No.
    2.Perhaps.
    3.If you want to change it, looks like somebody’s got an opinion about it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0gjRZ_UNGw , 0:15 .

  4. 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.

  5. Metallion (@metallion) said on 16th March 2013, 11:18

    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.

  6. Klaas (@klaas) said on 16th March 2013, 11:28

    There are some opinions that nowadays drivers are like sissies and want the race/qualy stopped when they feel there’s too much water on the track; they are considered the best drivers in the world and they should cope with everything the weather throws. But it’s enough a tragedy to happen and everyone suddenly becomes all sympathetic and talks about the human side of the sport. F1 is risky enough in dry conditions, there’s no need to push it only because some fans didn’t get to see who’s on pole on Saturday afternoon and poor them have to wait till Sunday morning. It’s not the end of the world especially if it happened only 3 times in 10 years.
    About the qualy format – I think it would be better if teams had an hour (or less) to set their best time (with limited sets of tires). I consider so because of the following benefits:
    1. It would keep the fans even more interested till the end because the (more) drivers would be able to change their grid position until the last minute.
    2. Considering that top teams use a set of tires just to drive around in Q1 and Q2 for the sake of setting a time – economy-wise ii would be more efficient as the teams could be given less sets of tires or at least they can be used to set a time that actually counts.
    3. It would show a clearer picture of who’s really the fastest as such factors like traffic, yellow flags, changeable weather/track conditions etc. would be reduced to minimum.

    • Kimi4QDC said on 16th March 2013, 15:54

      Of course. Human nature is to adapt to whatever the circumstances.

      When you get it your way you don’t have to and whole mentality shifts. Why would team bother making the ride high higher if they can get away with it. Before they had to actually think what to do to get most out of those type of condition, now they sit there and wait for stewards to call it off.

  7. the_sigman (@sigman1998) said on 16th March 2013, 11:34

    Τhe stewards were overcautious. As they generally speaking in the last few years

  8. Kenny (@kennyg) said on 16th March 2013, 11:35

    I was at turn 13 for the majority of qualifying today and whilst I’m aware there was a few puddles and the rain kept on falling it didn’t seem half as bad as the rain on race day at Silverstone 2008!

    I think these days they are overly cautious in the rain but also too slow to react! There were plenty of occasions when the rain stopped but whilst waiting for a round time (10-20-30), they missed their opportunity!

    As it is I’m lucky, I live close to the GP so will pop down for Quali and then go back later on as well, but people who aren’t on the door step, and with chances of more rain, it could be pretty long cold day for a lot of people tomorrow! It would have been better to have finalised a grid one way or another tonight.

  9. Paul (@fieldstvl) said on 16th March 2013, 11:43

    I’d rather deal with being a bit upset for a few hours whilst waiting for the postponed qualifying to restart than alter the current qualifying format.

    The start time should probably be earlier, but if it’s too wet it’s too wet. I’m not going to comment on whether or not the conditions were suitable because I’ve never driven a Formula 1 car at speed, or even slowly, in the dry or in the wet. So I don’t have a clue.

  10. Gazzaguru (@garygushbiz-com) said on 16th March 2013, 11:47

    Race control is far too cautious. If the conditions are undriveable you obviously cancel. The aim is for the drivers to decide what the risk/reward in those conditions should be. When it rains the skill of the driver is far more important than the car – and so it becomes a much more level playing field for the drivers and as such the spectators to watch.
    Pity therefore that we are deprived from watching who the real talent in F1 is currently.

    • Klaas (@klaas) said on 16th March 2013, 11:52

      @garygushbiz-com

      When it rains the skill of the driver is far more important than the car

      Yes but unfortunately when a less skilled driver crashes and brings the yellow flags just before a skilled driver’s flying lap it becomes all very sad for both of them no matter the talent.

      • Gazzaguru (@garygushbiz-com) said on 16th March 2013, 12:20

        If a skilled driver has too slow as a result a yellow flag by someone spining off andf/or crashing when it’s wet – can be corrected by a simple rule change that for instance would enable them redo their run in an extended session if the time ran out.

        Stick to my viiew – Race control is too cautious and the current drivers given the option become sissies.

        • Hotbottoms (@hotbottoms) said on 16th March 2013, 13:05

          I’m sorry, but that rule change would be horrible. Drivers would have to pit for more fuel, prolonging sessions a lot. Also the conditions would never be identical with their first attempt due to track and tyres. Also there would always be speculation whether drivers’ first lap was any good before the yellow flag.

          To sum it up: such rule wouldn’t decrease unfairness or speculation at all, but it would prolong sessions a lot.

  11. Japhew Ryder (@japhew-ryder) said on 16th March 2013, 11:48

    i agree that race control is becoming gradually more cautious, which is not a bad thing on a regular basis. problem is it’s becoming way more intrusive too. this have to do with regulations, penalties assignments and decisions they take that in the end are not up to them. Today it was up to the drivers to decide, as ever, as in any other motorport race.

    On the other hand, today’s cars are “allergic” to water and acquaplaning happens very easily compared with the past. Why not change aerodynamics regulations to make these cars less extreme?

  12. gamewriterMike (@gamewritermike) said on 16th March 2013, 11:49

    Your synopsis of events neglects a major factor. Q2 was initially delayed long enough for the track to again become waterlogged because it took so long to remove debris from the multiple shunts in Q1. If not for that, cars would have been running long enough to post at least one timed lap before Q2 was washed out, possibly more if the teams were prompt at the start of the session. With cars on-circuit when the heavier rain came, much of the water would have been displaced by the rain tyres, which might have even permitted Q3 to go ahead.

  13. Starbuck (@starbuck) said on 16th March 2013, 11:57

    The solution is easy – a comeback of the 60 minuten/12 laps qualifying on Friday and Saturday and cars (drivers?) that are capable of driving in the rain.

  14. xjr15jaaag (@xjr15jaaag) said on 16th March 2013, 12:10

    I think they did the right thing; no-one would be complaining about delaying quali if someone had crashed due to the wet conditions and then been hospitalised, as was the case in Brazil 2003.
    Additionally, you can’t compare quali today with such races as Fuji 2007 and Silverstone 2008, simply because Melbourne is a street track which is plastered with white lines, which instantly makes it more demanding due to the lack of grip.

  15. WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 16th March 2013, 12:20

    There really is no debate to be had here. Race control have been too cautious in the past, but today was not one of those days. With the poor drainage of the track, the darkening conditions, suffering fans, 750bhp, a slower-low ride height and the parc feme disallowing the installation of wet setups, I really saw this postponement as a positive decision. I know that everyone is rolling their eyes thinking “in the good old days…” but this is not the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix (perhaps the most controversial session stoppage ever). Cars now fundamentally require air running over the aero surfaces of the car in order to produce grip, and these Pirelliis need at least 65 degrees centigrade in order to offer any grip whatsoever, two things that certainly were not present this morning. At under 100kph an F1 car doesn’t work; in fact you might as well be driving the Mercedes C63 AMG Medical Car. Fact. I would say that it was almost certain that there would have been a hefty crash in later stages of Q2. Now I can gaurantee you that an elderly chap by the name of Stirling was sat there watching this shouting, “IT’S MEANT TO BE DANGEROUS!”, which it is, but it isn’t meant to be stupid. Tootling around at 80kph with no grip means things get to a stage when its no longer about car quality or driver skill, it just becomes luck. That is not F1. And just imagine if we had a fatality in F1 within the context of the modern day. It could even spell the death of a sport already condemned for its extravagant, alien and rather dictatorial connotations. In essence, when Fernando Alonso says “we cannot drive in this”, believe him. When an ex-racing driver says, “You should be racing” from the comfort of his home, roll your eyes. I really cannot stand “armchair experts”…oh, errr…awkward…

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