Vitaly Petrov has questioned the validity of qualifying in F1 in the new Pirelli era, after seeing his Lotus Renault GP team-mate Nick Heidfeld breeze past him in the closing stages of last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, the German going on to take the chequered flag eighth from the very back of the grid as he himself could manage just eleventh.
Having been unable to set a qualifying time following an engine fire during FP3 on Saturday morning, Heidfeld might have been plum last on the starting grid, but he had the benefit of three fresh sets of soft-compound tyres to take into the race – whereas Petrov had conversely used up the majority of his own allocation in securing an excellent sixth position on Saturday afternoon, thereby leaving him comparatively disadvantaged 24 hours later.
A similar scenario played out in last month's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, when having failed to make it beyond the opening segment of qualifying, Red Bull Racing star Mark Webber stormed his way up through the order over the latter half of the race to claim the final spot on the podium and come within just 7.5 seconds of victory and 2.4 seconds of his own team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
Similarly, as Heidfeld shone in Spain, Petrov was powerless on older rubber to prevent himself from slipping down the field, winding up a lowly and frustrated eleventh having spent the initial phase of the grand prix in fifth position. That being the case, queries the young Russian – and echoing sentiments already expressed by both Webber and Team Lotus veteran Jarno Trulli – what is the point of even qualifying at all..?
“It is hard to say what went wrong in this race,” mused the perplexed and disappointed 26-year-old, speaking to Rossiya 2
. “At the start, I managed to win one position and I remained in fifth until the first wave of pit-stops. It all looked pretty good, but then I had virtually no chance to stay in the top ten. We must analyse what happened.
“It appears qualifying has little meaning now. Here's some simple arithmetic – if you complete just one fast lap in qualifying, you waste your tyres on three laps ['out' lap, 'flying' lap and 'in' lap] for the race, so when you go to the start having already used tyres, you lose lots of time on every lap. Nick wasn't involved in the fight for spots on the grid on Saturday, and therefore maintained three sets of new tyres. Starting from 24th position, he still had the advantage.”