Once again, qualifying had its share of surprises today. But there was a method to the madness. Six out of the first seven spots on the grid were the beneficiaries of Mercedes power. Kimi Raikkonen, once again showing a return to form for Ferrari, was the only driver of that group using a powerlant badged with a logo other that the tripoint star of Mercedes.
It was no surprise to see Lewis Hamilton on the pole, even though he paid lip service to being surprised by the McLaren’s pace today. Hamilton has shown many times that when the car is performing, he can deliver. The real surprise was Adrian Sutil, who did a stellar job taking the second position on the grid. Force India’s sudden lurch to prominence has been nothing short of amazing. Tonio Luizzi, piloting the second Force India car, did admirably to qualify seventh, considering that he stepped in for Giancarlo Fisichella at the last moment.
Speaking of Fisichella, one has to wonder what’s going through his mind. Force India has been a consistent backmarker team for much of the season, and suddenly, just when they seem to have been given a dose of a magic potion, Fisico receives his long awaited call from Ferrari. Fisi says he has no regrets about jumping aboard the Prancing Horse, and indeed, all indications are that Luizzi was going to replace him in 2010 anyway, so it ends up being an “everybody wins” scenario. Still, one can’t help but see the irony in the situation.
Meanwhile, in another surprising result in a topsy turvy season, the four top points leaders, Button, Barrichello, Vettel and Webber qualified 5th, 6th, 9th and 10th, respectively. These four cars represent the Brawn and Red Bull teams, running Mercedes and Renault power, respectively. What accounts for the performance gap at this track? In some measure, it can be chalked up to KERS. Half of the top ten drivers are running KERS this weekend, including Alonso. The mystery here is Force India. KERS has never been part of their program.
While I often loathe the draconian method in which Mad Max and the FIA impose rule changes, in 2009 it seems to have created more variety and more unpredicability in the qualifying and race results than in any other season within the past 20 years or more. I have a hunch that if rules are stabilized for a few years, next year and beyond we’ll be seeing the usual suspects on the podium. Statisticians refer to this as “regression to the mean.” Meanwhile, fans of motor sport refer to the current situation as a welcome change of pace.