F1 – Bubble Wrap in Albert Park

I didn’t stay up to watch qualifying fo the opening round of the Australian Grand Prix.  My regular sleep schedule has me up around five in the morning, so a start time of 1:00 isn’t in the cards.  I did randomly wake up at 12:30, but any idea of attempting to stay awake was beaten into submission by the sandman.

My DVR was put to good use as soon as I woke up, though.  I fired up the F1 app and set to see how F1’s ridiculous new qualifying format would play out.  Thanks to the ability to time shift a session on the app, I had both the TV and the app aligned and a cup of coffee in hand. I lost count of the almost spit-takes as qualifying unfolded.

At first it was business as usual, at first. With six minutes left in session, the eliminations began, and it became apparent that some teams were saving their equipment if advancing positions seemed unlikely. The TV graphic next to the river under threat of elimination was a red box with the 90 second countdown, and one team remarked that a driver as bitten by the little red shark.

When Gutierrez was on the bubble, he had put together personal best times in the first two sectors, however the lap was not completed before the clock ran out.  The lap time would have been sufficient to vault the HaasF1 driver to P8 for the session.  Alas, the freshman team wouldn’t break out of Q1 when the same little red clock bit Grosjean in the ass, as well.  RoGro did call off the lap and enter the pits, so we don’t know what his time would have been.

The final driver eliminated in Q1, Marcus Ericsson, crossed the line before the checkers and was able to complete the flying lap and have it count for the session. Essentially Ericsson’s 90 second window to complete a lap or be eliminated as the slowest of the remaining drivers in the session doesn’t mean anything if he can attempt redemption with another hot lap. At the end of Q1, it was apparent that the system was appallingly unfair and any drama generated by the new format was offset by different, unpleasant drama.

Q2 was relatively mundane, but the real failure of this new system became apparent in Q3.  Much as the first few eliminations in Q1, teams realized there wasn’t enough time for the driver to get on track and make a flying lap, so chose to stay in the pits and conserve equipment.  This was so rampant that all the drivers were done with over three minutes left in the session!  With drivers turning qualifying laps in the 1:25-1:26 range, that’s enough for two flying laps!

The logic was to have the two fastest drivers (both from Mercedes, in the current climate) duel for pole position at the end o Q3. We did get Nico and Lewis in a duel, but with a full three minutes let in the session!  I fully understand the strategy of the teams. They made an early lap that was fast enough to lock in a good starting position. Considering this is the first race of the year, a conservative strategy with regards to equipment has merit.

During the post-qualifying press conference, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton had a bit of tit-for-tat about the new system and what should be reverted back, if anything. Of course everyone from fans to team bosses realized what a gross error of judgement this has been. As a result, an emergency meeting has been arranged for Sunday morning to discuss the qualifying changes. Bernie has also vowed to make sure the changes are scrapped.

I work in IT as a support tech, and I get to see user’s realize the result of their stupidity on a regular basis.  I gain a twisted sense of satisfaction when I hear the audible ‘pop’ when someone pulls their head out of their ass.  I like to think that the sound coming from Albert Park on Saturday was akin to a child with a sheet of bubble wrap as the whole of the F1 Strategy Group realized their collective faux pas.

It seems that 2016 is the year of #FAIL in motorsports. Take the NASCAR Countdown Clock, F1’s qualifying debacle, and now IMSA.TV being geoblocked while the Fox broadcast is on-air. And last week’s IndyCar broadcast on ABC. What have motorsports fans done to deserve this?  Are we being punished?

It seems that everyone involved in motorsports seems to realize that there are this segment of the population called fans, and those fans want to enjoy the races and the sessions.  Further, then you make changes that take away from the session, namely having drivers pilot race cars as fast as they are able. This takes away from the session, clearly.

My one bright spot from F1 qualifying is that the pace of both HaasF1 drivers was quick enough to get them up the grid, had the the red shark not bitten.  We’ll see how well Grosjean and Gutierrez can put that pace to use in race day on Sunday.  I’m going to get an energy drink and brew an extra pot to stay up for this one.


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