Saturday 16 March 2013

Melbourne Qualifying (so far): Rain stops play

Well, that was an anticlimax wasn't it? The first qualifying session of the season, always the most keenly anticipated, was due today and after an hour and a half of 'action' (using that term in the loosest sense of course) all we were able to establish was that two Caterhams, two Marussias, Esteban Guiterrez and Pastor Maldonado were those who dropped out after Q1. The remainder of the proceedings will have to wait until tomorrow, 11am local time, as rain, followed by bad light, stopped play.

Nico Rosberg was quickest in what little running there was
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
Rain, or a wet track at least, was a permanent presence in the Melbourne qualifying time today, it was simply a factor of how wet as the elements intensified and occasionally relented. During one relative relent the first twenty minute qualifying session happened. There were plenty of lairy moments and front wings lost, but the track got less treacherous as time went on and the session was topped by one Nico Rosberg who had flown throughout (further grist to the 'Mercedes has got it right finally' mill). But then nothing happened. In F1's own equivalent of Waiting for Godot, we were told there'd be a 10 minute delay before cars were released again, then there'd be a further 20 minute delay, then another 20. Intense rain had started again just as Q1 ended, but moreover the organisers were spooked by a forecast which suggested a particularly sharp shower was on its way. All the while it got darker too, given that qualifying's scheduled start was only around 90 minutes shy of local sunset time. Eventually the inevitable was given in to, and it was announced that qualifying from Q2 onwards would recommence tomorrow on the morning prior to the race.

It's a move not unprecedented, similar was done in Japan in both 2004 and 2010. But still, it all seems rather like F1's latest episode where it hasn't shown itself in the best of lights. Of course, just about all sports have a point when rain stops play, but it cannot be denied that F1 is more risk averse on such things than it once was; time was not so long ago that running in conditions such as today's wouldn't have caused too much perturbance. And one has to feel most sympathy for the paying public in attendance who spent much of the day being rained on for not much action in return, as well as for all watching F1 fans around the world many of whom set their alarms to watch. But on the other hand Race Director Charlie Whiting who makes these decision one assumes must have good reason to be so cautious, and presumably also would have local legal advice to hand. And if Whiting had let everyone get on with it and woe betide the worst had happened then it would have been his name against the decision, and it would have been him that retribution would have been aimed. Like most decisions, they seem much easier if it's not us making them. Perhaps it all just reflects the modern (and litigious) age.

Sebastian Vettel will be more relieved than most
that things are being delayed until tomorrow
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
Further, Bernie's idea of a 5pm local start time, purportedly to make things marginally more convenient for European TV audiences, didn't help as it gave very little delay time before it got dark and thus made it impossible to have further running today.

Whatever the case, there will be particularly strong sighs of relief in the Red Bull garage at the outcome, as its cars look to have the legs of everyone this weekend and would have least of all welcomed the wild card that rain tends to offer. The weather is expected to fine up by tomorrow and the Bulls will appreciate a nice, boring dry session.

And one silver lining of today's events is that we'll get our first proper steer of who's quick and who isn't in qualifying trim which the rain had threatened to delay by a week. On the evidence of practice Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus look very tightly packed in a group next up after the Bulls, while McLaren looks to be struggling even more than we thought. Jenson Button has admitted that the car's well short of top ten pace and plundering a few points is the very best it can aspire to. Williams has disappointed too.

Thus the pack is being held a little longer before being released properly.

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