This morning I got up way too early for a Saturday: At 06:30. The reason was, of course, the start of the 2013 Formula 1 season in Melbourne, Australia, and what I thought would be the first qualifying session of the season. Unfortunately, the Australian weather wanted different things this morning.
It all start with rain. Lots and lots of rain. These are the most exciting F1 conditions because everything gets totally unpredictable. But over the years, safety has become a very important issue in Formula 1 and it doesn’t take much rain to postpone a qualifying session or even a race start. The circuit in Melbourne is a street track and since it doesn’t drain very well, it takes even less rain than on a real race track for the stewards to raise the safety flag. That flag was raised today and Q1 was initially delayed by 10 minutes before it was delayed yet again for another 10 minutes. I can totally understand this, an aqua planing Formula 1 car at 250 kmh (~155 mph) is more of a Formula 1 canoe; still going at the same speed, but impossible to control. As a driver you don’t want to become a passenger in your own car, and as a spectator you just don’t want a race car (or parts of it) in your lap. They tried this during a NASCAR race back in February and it didn’t end well.
Sitting, waiting in their cars can be physically straining for the drivers, especially the rookies. Even though they are all more or less seasoned drivers in their own right, coming from other race classes where they have done well, Q1 of the Rolex Australian Grand Prix was their first Formula 1 qualifying session. Getting all psyched up and then suddenly having to wait for 20 minutes must be a mental pain. For the spectators, on the other hand, it was all about physical pain. The rain poured, and the a harsh wind blew away their umbrellas. It looked really crappy, to be honest.
But eventually, it stopped raining and after a heroic effort from myriads of men with brooms, the track eventually got dry enough for the drivers to try their luck. But it was not dry enough to prevent a lot of drivers to veer off course and off the track, often hitting tyre walls or skipping across the grass. Rookie Giedo Van Der Garde (Caterham) hit the tyre wall first, and had to return to the pits with his front wing stuffed under the car. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) also spun, but was lucky and escaped with minor damage to his back wing. Sergio Perez, who is now driving for McLaren after taking over Hamilton seat after his Mercedes exit, didn’t spin off the track, but struggled a lot with the car. The same seemed to be the case for Jenson Button, the other McLaren driver, which I hope is not an omen for this years McLaren car’s abilities on wet surfaces.
Felipe Massa (Ferrari) also hit the tyre wall at speed, but being the luckiest man of Q1, he managed to get away from it with only a obliterated front wing. With the speed he had, his suspension should also have been busted, but he somehow managed to get away with it. The track dried up quite well during the 15 minutes Q1 lasts, but didn’t prevent Charles Pic (Caterham) from also hitting the wall and loosing the front wing, just like his team mate Van Der Garde did early in the session. I sure hope Caterham brought a lot of spare front wings to Australia.
Six drivers were eliminated in Q1 and one of those drivers was Pastor Maldonado (Williams), which I guess is sort of a surprise. He won a race last year, but him being eliminated isn’t really that much of a surprise since his 2012 win in Spain- in my opinion – was a major fluke. His next best result in the 2012 season was 5th place at the Abu Dhabi 13 races later.
After Q1 it started to really pour and Q2 was delayed for 20 minutes. Seeing that it might be impossible to complete both Q2 and Q3 before the sun set, the stewards eventually decided to carry qualifying over to Sunday and start Q2 at 11 am local time. That’s one in the night my local time, which means I have to either get up very early or not go to bed. I think I’ll opt for the latter and with the help of Red Bull and coffee, I might make it. Then it’s back to bed for a few hours of sleep before the race starts at 7 in the morning my time.
It’s hard to be an F1 fan.