Thursday 22 March 2018

Jenson Button: Qualifying postponement was right

Ian Parkes

Jenson Button was adamant the right decision was made in calling a halt to qualifying ahead of tomorrow's Australian Grand Prix.

The start to the new Formula One season was today shrouded in chaos as adverse weather hit Melbourne's Albert Park, where the second and third sessions will be run tomorrow six hours ahead of the race.

Heavy rain forced an initial half-hour delay to the opening 20-minute Q1 in which the conditions resulted in a number of incidents, notably involving Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Esteban Gutierrez, Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic.

Soon after the session concluded the rain again poured and although race director Charlie Whiting waited for a break in the weather, it never arrived.

With sunset time approaching, and the light rapidly fading, the decision was eventually made to hold the remainder of qualifying over until tomorrow, although more rain is forecast.

Although Whiting's call will have disappointed the millions of fans watching on television around the world, and the thousands sitting in the grandstands, Button insisted the dangers were too high.

"When it gets too wet for these tyres it doesn't matter what speed you drive around, you will aquaplane. The tyre cannot take a certain amount of water," said Button.

"That's especially the case when there is a river running across the circuit. You don't know where it is when you arrive.

"When it is that wet out there, there is no difference between the rivers and the circuit. It is like one big lake.

"And when you hit a river you are completely out of control. You might as well just close your eyes and take your hands off the steering wheel because the car does what it wants.

"That's not what Formula One racing is all about. It's about a guy trying to tame a 750 horsepower Formula One car, and in conditions where he can possibly tame it, because in this weather you can't.

"We're not in control of the situation." Button responded to critics of the decision by pointing to advances in safety in a sport which has been marred in the past by driver deaths.

"You could say 30 years ago they probably would have raced in these conditions, but safety has come a long way since then," he said.

"I'm very happy I'm racing at this moment in time because this is correct to not run today.

"Many times we've questioned the FIA's decision when it comes to safety, that they don't call a red flag early enough in qualifying or a race.

"But lately they have been great, they've called it well, and they understand what a Formula One car and a driver can do in these conditions.

"The fans will get a much better show tomorrow than they would if we had tried to run today in these conditions because we would have been piled up at turn one." Lewis Hamilton was in full agreement with his former McLaren team-mate, especially after his own incident in which he spun, damaging the rear wing of his Mercedes as he clipped a tyre wall.

"It was dangerous out there. This track is incredibly dangerous," said Hamilton.

"It's probably one of the slipperiest circuits I've raced on in the rain, simply because there are a lot of white lines everywhere that are painted black. It's like driving on ice in those parts.

"As soon as you hit those the car slides, aquaplanes, oversteers, and that's why you saw so many people going off, so the stewards made the right decision." It will be the third time in recent years qualifying has had to be held on Sunday morning, with the previous two occasions in Japan.

In 2004 typhoon Ma struck the Suzuka circuit, whilst three years ago conditions similar to today resulted in a continual stream of delays until the call was made to postpone it until race day.

Six drivers, however, will effectively have the morning off tomorrow, led by Williams' Pastor Maldonado, who declared his car "undriveable" after finishing Q1, and he will start 17th.

Behind him will be four of the five rookies in F1 this year, with Gutierrez 18th in his Sauber after ending his first qualifying with a spin into the same wall that accounted for Ferrari's Massa.

For Marussia, in what will be a season-long battle for 10th place in the constructors' championship with Caterham, the team struck an early blow with both their cars outqualifying their main rival.

Jules Bianchi and Britain's Max Chilton will line up 19th and 20th, whilst on the back row will be Van der Garde and Pic, both of whom spun at various points and lost their front wings.

Press Association

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