'It was impossible, I was aquaplaning everywhere'
Monday 06 April 2009
There were strong feelings this time around that the decision to put the race start back from its usual 3pm to 5pm, in order to maximise the global television audience, was an open invitation to the chaos that duly ensued in Sepang.
A spokesman for the Malaysian organisers said: "The authorities were advised that the latest practical time to start the race, and to have a chance of avoiding the rain, was 16.30, but in any case it usually rains between 17.00 and 18.00 here this time of year."
This time the rain arrived just before 18.00, when the race was on its 22nd lap, just under an hour after the start. So was it wise to start it so late? "The race was way, way too late, so the call to stop it was correct," race winner Jenson Button said. "The rain fell so hard, so quickly, that I think they did the right thing. It is very difficult for the race managers to judge how wet a circuit is. I thought it was too wet at Fuji two years ago, but this time I think they made the right call."
The twilight start for next year's Grand Prix in Malaysia will be reviewed, it was announced yesterday. "In the future, we may allocate a different time, perhaps earlier," new Prime Minister Najib Razak said.
World champion Lewis Hamilton said: "It was impossible to drive – it was aquaplaning everywhere and it was very dangerous. I think it was the most dangerous conditions I've ever raced in. When they stopped it, that was correct, it was dangerous for everyone. It was the right decision."
Runner-up Nick Heidfeld agreed. "It was roughly the right time to stop it. My tyres were worn so for me it was a good call. Someone with newer tyres might have said it could have gone another lap or two... The safety car was out for maybe 20 seconds, then the red flag came, so I think that was right. It was very clearly impossible to drive on in a restart if the rain had kept as strong as it was when the race was stopped, so it was the right decision not to continue, and by then it was dark in any case, so there was no chance to carry on."
Adding further perspective to the conditions with which the drivers had to cope, Button said: "It was such an exciting race, but to be honest I'd rather have a boring one, but we came out on top, so I'm very happy. At the end, the conditions were really bad and you couldn't really see the circuit."
Rain halts play: Stopped races
This is the fifth time a race has been stopped and only half points awarded.
In 1975, the Spanish GP was halted after 29 laps when Rolf Stommelen crashed into the crowd, killing a photographer and four spectators. That same year, conditions in the Austrian GP became so bad that the race was red-flagged after 29 laps.
Ayrton Senna believed he had scored his first victory, at Monaco in 1984. But deteriorating conditions meant the race had been stopped and Senna was outraged to find the win had been awarded to Alain Prost.
The 1991 Australian GP lasted only 19 laps before rain triggered a rash of accidents. This time Senna was awarded the victory.
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