Well, the new Formula 1 qualifying format was certainly different. Great fun to watch as well — at least the first two sections were. Kimi Räikkönen really showed up an interesting problem with the new format. A lot of the teams were avoiding putting in a lap until the very last moment they could get away with. Kimi showed how risky this strategy actually is. The red flags came out with more than four minutes to go, but if the red flag came out with one or two minutes to go, a lot of cars would not have posted a time (because they were on their out / flying laps when the red flags came out, and wouldn’t have enough time to post another lap time once the session re-started).
It led to a frantic last few minutes of the first section. The second section of the qualifying session was just as good — lots of fast action as drivers tried to get their way into the top ten.
The final section, however, was a complete disaster. Just like the bad old days of the twelve-lap format, nothing happened at first and all the action was at the end. After the action of the first two parts of qualifying, the mundanity of the final section was a real come down. Clearly, they need to get rid of this obsession with qualifying with race fuel on board. It works okay in a one-lap format, but not a free-for-all style like the new format.
Inevitably all the drivers spent the first ten or fifteen minutes just burning off fuel to make their cars lighter. I am a defender of F1, but in this increasingly environmentally conscious world, it just doesn’t fit easily. Burning off fuel, not because they are setting a fast lap time, but for no reason — it simply sounds like a waste. What’s more, it makes it bloody boring for the spectator as well. I think if they took this silly rule away, qualifying would be sorted.
So, mixed results for the qualifying format itself, but the important thing for the race is the grid, and that is mixed up as well! This is terrible for Räikkönen and McLaren. Clearly McLaren’s problems are not only with the engine, and having to start from the back of the grid is not a great way to start the season.
Toyota’s lack of pace also shocked me. Ralf Schumacher getting knocked out in the first section is confusing. Maybe he lost out due to the frantic confusion and the bunched up cars in the session. But Trulli was not much faster and he got knocked out in the second section, ending up just 14th. It looks terrible for Toyota — I don’t understand how they got so slow. They are only a little bit ahead of MF1, who are using the same Toyota engines. It’s a bit embarassing to only just manage to beat MF1, particularly for Mike Gascoyne. What’s gone wrong?
The Toro Rossos are probably in just about the right place. Liuzzi had an awful lap which was televised to the world, so maybe it was not the car’s problem. But if the cars were much further ahead people would be making yet more noise about the V8 / V10 equivalency formula. I was pleased that Nick Heidfeld managed to get into the top 10, even if he was unable to make any impact in the final session. BMW look fairly good on the basis of that qualifying session.
I was very impressed with Felipe Massa as well. I thought he was a mediocre driver, but he managed to push Michael Schumacher fairly hard today, and the fact that he finished second shows that Ferrari are back on form now. But if the Ferraris are on light fuel as Montoya suggested on ITV just then, Button and Alonso could have a chance for a win.
I can’t wait for the race now!