Thank the Lord it was Rubens Barrichello whose late crash cemented pole position here for Lewis Hamilton yesterday, and not the world champion's team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen. The sport would have overdosed after the infamy of the "Crashgate" scandal, when Renault cheated Fernando Alonso to victory in the inaugural 2008 night race by having his team-mate Nelson Piquet Jnr stage a crash.
After the ejection of the team's principal, Flavio Briatore, and his partner in crime, chief engineer Pat Symonds, Renault came here simply wanting to get on with things. But Alonso was hounded by questions about his own involvement in the affair that has blackened a troubled sport's reputation. Then sponsors ING and Mutua Madrilena quit on Thursday, and, in first practice on Friday evening, Piquet Jnr's replacement, Romain Grosjean, caused further embarrassment by spinning his car at the same Turn 17 where the Brazilian had deliberately crashed in last year's race to trigger the safety-car intervention that won Alonso the big prize.
One bout of controversy never seems to be enough for Formula One. Back in the UK, Sir Martin Sorrell, 64, who serves on the board of CVC Capital Partners, the private equity company who, with Bernie Ecclestone, own the commercial rights to the sport, tore into F1's 78 year-old ringmaster for advising Briatore to appeal against his lifetime ban from the sport. In response to Ecclestone's suggestion that a year's ban was sufficient, Sorrell said: "First, we had Hitler did good, now we have cheating is acceptable. Where will it end? His latest comments are yet another example of Bernie being totally out of touch with reality."
Ecclestone told the BBC: "The comments I made about Hitler... I apologised because they were taken completely wrong. As far as cheating, I haven't made any comments. Everybody's entitled to their opinion. Why should his [Sorrell's] opinion be more important than mine? He's not involved in the sport, he doesn't come to races. He doesn't know the people that are involved."
Later he added: "The problem with Sorrell is that his brain and his mouth aren't synchronised. If he can find where I said cheating was OK, I'll give him a job, and he'll probably need one the way his share price is going."
Throw in the banished Briatore threatening vengeance on all who had conspired against him, and F1's business ran 24/7 this weekend. In the circumstances, it was almost inevitable that the final session of qualifying proved controversial.
Hamilton had taken his McLaren to the fastest time after the first runs in the final qualifying session, but as the crucial second runs began, Barrichello crashed his Brawn in Turn 5 with only 26 seconds to go before the chequered flag fell. As the red flag came out instead, everyone behind Hamilton had reason to feel chagrined. Sebastian Vettel had just set the fastest time in Sector One, while Williams' Nico Rosberg had done likewise in Sector Two.
Hamilton himself was also preparing to go quicker. "I was hard on myself after the last race," he said, referring to his last-lap crash at Monza when he was running third behind the Brawns. "I wanted to come here and lift the team up and give some sort of apology with a strong performance."
As usual, the uplifting side of the sport, the story of human spirit, went largely unnoticed as McLaren's mechanics worked through the night to 10am in terrible humidity to build Hamilton a new car around a new chassis after a problem was discovered in the Kers wiring of his original.
"I definitely didn't expect to be on the pole," Hamilton continued. "So a big thanks to the guys. I'm very pleased to have been able to do this for them." Vettel was cheerfully philosophical on whether he could have taken pole for Red Bull on a day when title rival Jenson Button struggled to 12th place. "The first run was important, but I did mine on used tyres and had a new set ready for the second. But it's great to be back in the front."
Rosberg set the fastest lap of the weekend in the second qualifying session and also believed he could have improved on his third-fastest time in the final part. "It's really enjoyable and I'm very pleased for the team that we can fight for the podium, maybe even a win soon," he offered.
A victory for the ever-popular Williams team today would be a huge and timely boost for the sport, proof that good guys can still win. Rosberg and Hamilton, second and third here last year, are overdue payback after the Singapore slings and arrows that cheated them out of their just deserts here a year ago.Reuse content