Formula 1's drivers have expressed mixed views on the new later starting time for the 2009 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this weekend, with some making clear their concerns and others not understanding what all the 'fuss' is about.
Qualifying and the race have been moved back two hours to make their timings more conducive to European television viewing audiences – and the same is set to happen in Sepang for the Malaysian Grand Prix in a week's time.
Unlike in the sport's inaugural night race in Singapore back in September, however, floodlights have not been deemed necessary for the 'twilight' outing Down Under – where the starting lights will go out at 5pm local time, meaning that by the time the chequered flag falls, the sun will be low in the sky.
“I don't know about it,” Toyota star Jarno Trulli told the Melbourne newspaper The Age
. “I've never raced before this late in the afternoon. I don't know how the light is going to be.
“In Singapore it was totally dark, with lights. This will be different again. In truth, I prefer the sunny daytime.”
“The first race is always a bit like a leap in the dark,” added Ferrari ace Felipe Massa, “but I can't wait! As the race starts at 5pm let's hope that it won't also end in the dark!”
Force India veteran Giancarlo Fisichella, by contrast, suggested that the later start time would be unlikely to 'change a lot for the drivers', with former F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen admitting in characteristically carefree fashion that it matters little to him what time the grand prix takes place.
“I don't know why people are making so much fuss about this,” the Finn asserted. “We have raced at night under lights in Singapore, and during the winter we often continue testing while it is getting dark at the end of the afternoon. I don't think it will be very dark at the end of the race, so I'm not worried about it all.”
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Abu Dhabi – which is to join the grand prix calendar in November, when it will play host to the 2009 season finale – also has designs on becoming a night-time event in the future. That will no doubt be music to the ears of the sport's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone, who is keen for as many Middle and Far Eastern races as possible to take place after dark.
“The fact that we can run the track 24 hours a day leaves us in a very good position to run the circuit at night-time,” the grand prix's general manager Richard Cregan told German press agency dpa
. “There are a lot of possibilities.