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. Kelsier (@kelsier) said on 16th March 2013, 16:35

    I love the current quali-format, qualifying has never been as exiting as now. What happened today is just the session starting to late and unwillingness to let the drivers use the fullwet tires. Having qualifying tomorrow should not be any problem and it would be boring to just use the q1 times. Qualifying is not something to just get out of the way before the race, it is often one of the highlights of the weekend, right up there with the start and the final laps of the race!

  2. Why on Earth does a sport as rich as F1 not have even a rudimentary version of the Air Titan track drying system used by NASCAR? Even a simple “jet engine on a truck” would make a huge difference. Far better than brooms…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/23/sports/autoracing/nascars-air-titan-could-reduce-drying-time-of-rain-soaked-track.html?_r=0

  3. Fisha695 (@fisha695) said on 16th March 2013, 17:13

    I just want to know, does Australia not have Street-Sweeper trucks that can suck up the water & leaves? A few of those out on track going around would’ve easily taken care of the water (& leaves) standing on track at the time and allowed them to run Q1 on time followed by having those trucks back on track between the sessions so that Q2 could’ve got going, etc.

    • Exactly. In the States, Airports, baseball stadiums, IndyCar and NASCAR have been using pretty simple but effective pickup truck jet dryers for decades. They are widely available for a <$350k (peanuts, in F1 terms).

      And the Air Titan system I mentioned previously would be mega. That thing could have easily dried the track fast enough to start Q1 and Q2 on time, potentially allowing Q3, too.

      I'm an open wheel diehard for life, but it wouldn't kill our beloved sport to borrow some good ideas from NASCAR every now and then.

  4. James (@jamesf1) said on 16th March 2013, 17:51

    What an absolute farce, on so many levels. F1 is supposed to be about the best drivers showing their worth, the top calibre of which should have the ability to prove themselves in the most challenging conditions. It seems a good portion of the drivers were keen to get on, and get out on the track, even Max Chilton, dumped out in Q1 felt it was possible to continue.

    But no, the FIA feared that if one driver broke a finger nail in a gravel trap, they’ll have Gladstone Brooks on their case for an injury at work. The drivers pay extorntionate fees for their licenses and most have come a long way to get into F1, often competing and qualifying in more difficult conditions.

    How would great drivers of yesteryear who drove around in inferrior and, in some cases, more powerful than todays with little or no driver aids have shown their worth? If the FIA were as pathetic in 1984 as they were today, Senna wouldnt have blitzed the field in Monaco, and arguably would not have got the promotion onwards and upwards.

    I also feel for the fans. I appreciate it was a live qualifying session, but a lot of people paid a lot of money to get to and see the event, some may have only been able to get qualifying day tickets. I know it’s a live qualifying session, but couldnt two seaters been sent out to a) judge the driving conditions in a car more compareable to todays F1 car than the medical car, and b) give something for the fans to view?

    Finally, one has to ask what the point in full wet weather tyres are? The FIA either throws a red flag or puts out the safety car when they’re needed. When they’re not, the track only requires intermediate at best most of the time. How about just binning full wets? It’s obviously a waste of time transporting them half way accross the globe for nothing.

  5. Dafffid (@dafffid) said on 16th March 2013, 19:49

    Quali is not too complicated but it is too long and dull anyway. If they knocked out 7 and 7 (8 & 8 with 24 cars) and ran the sessions shorter, it would make Q1 and Q2 really mean something, which too often they don’t. Q1 is just a snoozefest usually.

  6. I agree, the format for qualifying is unnecessarily complicated, and what’s more, it doesn’t set the grid up correctly for the start of a race. The grid should be set up for the fastest accelerating cars to be at the front, not the fastest running cars to be at the front.
    To me, a much simpler solution is get each driver to do a standing start sprint for a predetermined distance, e.g. the length of the main straight, one lap of the track, etc, the order being somehow related to the results of the last race, e.g. same order as the last race results (or, since this is the first race of the year, by the car number), by reversing the results of the last race (so winner goes last), etc.
    Fastest accelerating car gets Pole.
    “And what,” you say, “happens when a car runs off the track, crashes, breaks down, has a puncture, or for some reason fails to set a time?” Simple: go to the back of the grid. The order for cars there can be determined by a number of means, e.g. pure chance, by car number, being given a second chance (so fastest car here is the front car of those that failed to complete a track time).
    Ideally each driver should be the only car on track at that time, but you could do them in twos if there weren’t any corners involved e.g. each team has their two cars sprint at the same time.
    So what would have happened in this case, where qualifying wasn’t completed due to rain? The problem you have here is the track conditions are / were changing, so some people, especially those with poor times, will believe they were unfairly treated compared to those that got good times (as is the current situation for those knocked out at the end of Q1). You would have had a partially complete grid (as is the current situation), so there would be cars that you knew for certain were at the back of the grid, car x is in front of car y, etc. The remaining unqualified cars can be given their chance later on, as is the current situation, so in this case it is on Sunday morning.

  7. cerealk said on 16th March 2013, 21:03

    I was glad they postponed it. It was very cold and had been raining for hours. Even sitting in the stands at the first corner wasnt fun in the very heavy rain! Looking forward to watching the rest today in about 3 hours.

  8. tmax (@tmax) said on 16th March 2013, 22:06

    Unfortunately for us US fans it was disappointing after keeping awake till early hours of the morning.

    As a F1 fan I was happy that they stopped the qualifying. It was too dark too wet and to dangerous out there. I thought they might bring up the red flag in the q1 after Massa’s accident. Overall a good decision by FIA.

  9. dragoll (@dragoll) said on 16th March 2013, 23:02

    I was a drowned rat at the track, but at least I could get out of the rain in the paddock club. I certainly felt really bad for the fans in the stands and GA who were out in the elements waiting for Q2 & Q3 to get underway.

    I left the track at 7:20pm, 30mins after the announcement that they postponed qualy to sunday and the track was virtually empty… In the 17 years I’ve been going to the GP, it was the eeriest sight walking back with only a few people here and there.

    In the end, the FIA had to make a call, and they made one, someone is going to be unhappy and someone is going to be happy. That’s life as an official…

    I’d just like to point out, that as an F1 fan in Australia, there is no doubt that we get the raw end of the deal with some of the races, most races in Europe are at 10pm on Sunday Night, then when the races head into the Americas or South America, the race is at 3am or 4am on Monday Morning. Meaning that I have to organise time off work to watch these races live, or worse, go into work really tired (done that too many times than I care to remember)…

  10. photozen (@photozen) said on 16th March 2013, 23:16

    Weather happens, it is part of any sport. I was sorry to see the weather affect the qualifying and people were disappointed. such is life.
    For the idea of having one solid hour of qualifying, it could be interesting, but I like the way it is now. They both have the advantages and disadvantages, but I feel the way it is now is more interesting.
    This weekend is and will be interesting in a variety of ways and I ended up, like someone else said early, with more F1 time overall due to mother nature.

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