Arriving only a week after Melbourne, Malaysia left little time for playing with the cars based on their first outing, and I think the race result confirmed this, with a rather different result from from last week, on a quite different track.
The race itself, and the result, were fairly mundane, which is not actually a criticism, but a compliment to the drivers, who managed to make it around the track from the lights to the flag without careering into one another at any point. Interest came with the sudden exit from the track of a Ferrari in unexpected circumstances, and the media interest was satisfied with the arrival of a ‘Bad Day’ for Lewis Hamilton, so they’ll be able to fill lots of space speculating about the imminent arrival of the end if his career… as if.
Hamilton actually provides meat to my assertion last week that qualifying is now a farce, determined more by sponsors and advertisers demanding that cars and drivers are seen, rather by actual qualifying. Like last year, this year saw qualifying revised to a ridiculous and unnecessarily complicated three-session affair, supposedly better than the one-shot qualifying hour that used for years before. Apparently deemed boring, as the drivers played ‘chicken’ with one another, and waited until the last minute before setting a time, meaning no-one moved until the last ten minutes, when they all tumbled on to the track to beat the clock.
With the dopey new system in place, some drivers (including Hamilton) set a time, then coasted back to the pits to save fuel/tyres/engine/gearbox. While this was good tactically, and a result of the new qualifying system, it meant they were crawling back to the pits while other drivers were still running at qualifying speed. So while the slow cars were running to the rules for qualifying, they fell foul of the rules by not travelling at a speed in keeping with the other cars still on track, and ended by receiving a five place penalty down the grid.
Sponsorship and advertising may be necessary evils, but they shouldn’t be granted the power to ruin the spectacle, and this daft qualifying system, with three sessions supposedly making it more interesting (it doesn’t) by forcing the cars and drivers out for longer, should be thrown in the nearest skip. If the hour was too long because the drivers tried to psyche one another out for most of it, then all that was needed was to shorten it, which would have made the remaining time more valuable, and more drivers would have gone out as those that wanted to use it just for some track time or final testing would have to have gone out sooner, and the faster cars would have to have gone out earlier too, in case they suffered a problem. With say, half an hour track time instead of an hour, there would have been less time to discover a problem in qualifying, fix it, and get back out to set a time, meaning that they would not have been able to play the ‘chicken’ factor quite so close to the line.