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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