A 'sorry' Ferrari was left ruing a critical 'error of judgement' – and not for the first time – after it found itself caught out by the elements in qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend, consigning Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa to an approach of 'damage limitation' on Sunday, with points now the target rather than the podium or victory.
Both drivers had looked to be in good shape heading into the qualifying session around the Sepang International Circuit close to the capital of Kuala Lumpur, so to exit the fray at the first opportunity was a crushing blow. Having gambled on the weather improving after rain began to fall ahead of Q1, Ferrari swiftly regretted its audacity and confidence in its weather forecasters, as rather than abating the rain in fact intensified – meaning try as the might, Alonso and Massa were never going to make the cut.
The Spaniard ultimately wound up 19th and his Brazilian team-mate 21st, sandwiching fellow tail-end newcomer Lewis Hamilton and respectively two and four tenths of a second shy of making it through to Q2 – with the former providing some entertainment along the way with a neat triple-pirouette that failed to help his cause. The combined result marked the Prancing Horse's worst F1 qualifying performance in decades.
“We were expecting the rain to stop,” explained double world champion Alonso. “That's why we stayed in the garage longer than the others. When we went out, though, the conditions got worse and even on the extreme wets we were unable to improve our time. Rain might make things more spectacular, but the session just turns into a lottery.
“Today it went badly for us, and we found ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, the result of qualifying is only worth the paper on which it is written, because the points are assigned at the end of the race. Of course, starting from the back puts us in a difficult position but, as we saw last Sunday in Melbourne, anything can happen and we have to trust in our abilities. We must do our best to bring home a points finish.”
“We are very sorry about what happened,” concurred Massa, whose qualifying efforts were blighted in similarly embarrassing fashion at the same race twelve months ago, when after putting in an early 'banker' lap in Q1 the Brazilian elected not to go out again thinking he had done enough, when he hadn't. “We waited a bit before going out, because it was raining hard and the forecast was for an improvement, however we found ourselves out on-track where there was more water than predicted.
“We made a mistake and we were caught out by the weather forecast – now we must do our best for tomorrow's race. It will be tough, as always when you start from the back of the grid, but we will have to try and score at least a few points. It's hard to say whether it's better to hope for rain or sunshine; maybe with the former there might be more chance of the tables being turned, but it's equally true that there are more chances of ending up out of the race.”
For the world championship leaders, it was indeed a disastrous outcome to a session that had at the outset promised considerably more. With chief title rivals Red Bull Racing first and third on the grid courtesy of pole-sitter Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, vital ground could be lost in the race – but the Scuderia's
team principal Stefano Domenicali acknowledged that with similar weather predicted for Sunday, the ostensibly impossible remains far from out of the question.
“We are very disappointed with the way qualifying went,” the Italian reflected. “We made an error of judgement in trusting the weather forecast; when we went out on-track the rain, rather than dying down, suddenly got even stronger. With hindsight, it is easy to say we should have gone out immediately.