One of the ongoing stories of the 2006 Formula One season has been the use of blocking tactics during the new style qualifying format. Many drivers have complained to the stewards after they felt that other drivers had impeded them during their fast runs in the very tight 15 minute sessions.
In September’s Italian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso was demoted to tenth on the grid after Felipe Massa whined that he was held up by the reigning champion. The stewards analysed the footage and data and decided to follow the regulations to the letter and thus Alonso was penalised. The general concensus of this situation online and on (UK) television was that Alonso’s penalty was a little harsh at minimum, and unjust in some peoples eyes. Very few people – including Ferrari fans – admited that Massa was seriously held up by the Renault of Alonso.
And this little spat between both drivers has bubbled over to the Japanese Grand Prix, but this time it is Alonso with the frustrated face on, and Massa who is on the receiving end of Flavio Britatore’s typically Italian outbursts. Fernando claims that during the fuel-burning phase of the third session in qualifying, the Ferrari of Massa deliberately lapped slower than that of his team mate and Alonso rival, Michael Schumacher. While championship leader Schumacher was lapping Suzuka in the 1m32s, Alonso was forced to follow Massa in the 1m34s. This allowed Schumacher to build up a gap and ensure he had clean air and a free track for his faster runs. Alonso says that he eventually backed off from the tail of Massa, at which point the young Brazilian upped the pace to match his team mate. Felipe Massa went on to take pole position.
Massa is the kind of guy… He is a kid. He is a little kid. Little in every sense.
We will talk with Charlie about this, this is perfect. Today we will tell Charlie, but nothing will happen.
We already know what the answer will be. Flavio Briatore
Flavio’s last statement elluding to his conspiracy theories once again, claiming that Ferrari get preferential treatment where possible to enable Michael Schumacher to retire this year as World Champion. Last time around, Flavio made some bolder statements which got him in trouble with the FIA. This time around though, Briatore has bitten his tongue a little harder, but made his feelings about the situation quite clear.
I for one hope that the FIA find a way of preventing these issues arising during qualifying. For sure, the new format is (in my opinion) better than the one lap shoot-outs that we all witnessed in previous years. But I am getting fed up with the now common outbursts of frustration from drivers claiming they have been unfairly blocked. I am sure that if each session of qualifying was longer, then the need to create space as quickly as possible would be diminished and we would see fewer claims such as these. Maybe it is time for Formula one to admit that the old 12 lap/1 hour system was good and is worthy of a (maybe slightly revised) return. Or maybe I am dreaming again…?