There is always a lot of debate when a Qualifying session or a Race gets stopped in Formula 1, with the usual debates being brought in. Today, we have had this reoccur again with the Australian Grand Prix, the 2013 season opener. There were two separate delays here. The first delay eventually meant that Q1 went ahead half an hour later than schedule. The second delay was to Q2, in ten minute intervals, before it was decided that Q2 and Q3 will take place on Sunday morning. But was it the right decision?
Personally, I don’t think you can question the delay to Q1 really. Before the session started, it was pretty evident that there was a significant amount of standing water, some kerbs being left under water, so this was a very sensible move by the FIA. There is no point of sending out cars if all they are going to do is tip-toe around the circuit. I don’t think there is much to debate here.
The problem, for me, comes with the second stoppage. The track at the end of Q1 was drying, drivers were setting competitive lap times and were clearly in the intermediates window. After the session, there was a spell of heavy rain. Would that spell of heavy rain for two to three minutes left the track in a worse condition than what it was in at the start of Q1? I don’t think so. If the drivers had gone out at the normal time (seven minutes after Q1 for Q2), the track would have been driveable. From the pictures, it looked like the drivers would have been able to use the racing line created towards the end of Q1.
It felt to me like a knee-jerk decision. I did not really understand the reasoning either – FIA were waiting to see what the predicted heavy rain showers would do and some of the lines were proving tricky. Is Formula 1 not meant to be a challenge? These drivers are the best of the best, the weather conditions after Q1 looked driveble in my opinion. The FIA’s reasoning about the predicted weather I don’t agree with, they would not delay a race if rain was predicted, so why delay qualifying? They should have started Q2 and let the drivers clear the track. If the drivers miss the window, then that is their fault. I think FIA have set a dangerous precedent by delaying Q2 because of potential rain.
A final point is with regards the start time for Australia and Malaysia. Malaysia is next weekend, and I hope we don’t find ourselves in the same situation. Malaysia use to be an early afternoon race, until 2009 when it was moved to early evening. It smacks of over-commercialisation to cater for European audiences. As someone who lives in the UK, I have benefited from it, but on the counter point, it won’t help them break until America who are starting a new broadcasting deal this weekend. With the changing climatic conditions, delaying sessions or red flagging races appears to be becoming an occurrence once every year.
I don’t think postponing Qualifying due to the rain does Formula 1 any good. Martin Whitmarsh talks about Formula 1 moving away from the television model and looking towards the internet. Someone should point out to Whitmarsh that people can watch other motor sports via the internet. Other motor sports that would have raced in the conditions Formula 1 did not this evening. It doesn’t make the sport look good, in my opinion. There needs to be a ‘level’, a few years ago, we were at the perfect ‘level’ between safety and entertainment. Now, on days like today, it feels we’re veering towards safety too much, to the detriment of the sport.