Two teams face a fight to make it to the grid on Sunday…
by Matthew Clayton
While Red Bull and McLaren hogged the limelight on Friday at the Qantas Australian Grand Prix, there were some long faces at the tail-end of the paddock.
Backmarkers Marussia Virgin and HRT both endured horror days to kick off their second season in Formula One.
Virgin’s drivers Timo Glock and rookie Jérôme D’Ambrosio weren’t able to record times within 107 per cent of the session-best laps set by Mark Webber and Jenson Button in practice one and two respectively.
That performance level may see them excluded from Sunday’s race if it is repeated in Saturday’s qualifying session.
The picture was even worse next door at HRT.
Neither Italian Tonio Liuzzi nor Indian Narain Karthikeyan took part in the first practice session as the team frantically worked on their cars; Liuzzi emerged for an installation lap only two minutes before the end of the second session.
The team’s 2011 car, the F111, missed the four pre-season tests in Spain altogether and HRT have a mountain to climb if they’re to be on the grid come Sunday.
Glock, fourth at Albert Park for Toyota back in 2008, was despondent as he slumped in the Virgin hospitality unit on Friday evening, with his best time of 1min 32.135secs over six seconds adrift of Button’s benchmark time.
“We made a little bit of improvement from P1 (first practice) to P2 (second practice), but in general it’s disappointing,” the 28-year-old said.
“We’re just too far away, and from my point (of view), that’s unacceptable. The car doesn’t feel that bad – it’s just overall grip and downforce.”
Glock admitted that he was taken aback by the speed of the teams at the front of the field, and admitted to being concerned that Virgin’s best efforts in qualifying might still not result in a place on Sunday’s grid.
“The top teams never show really what’s going on in testing. (The final test in) Barcelona didn’t look great for us, but I was surprised about the gap to the top guys – it was slightly more than I expected at the end.”
The only positive for Glock on Friday came from his own health. The German was rushed to hospital to have his appendix removed just three weeks ago, but was pleased that he was able to make it through Friday without physical difficulties.
“I had no problems, and it actually feels quite OK in the car,” he said.
“The first couple of laps felt OK, and at the end of the two sessions there are no problems, which is good.”
Glock was disappointed but still talking on Friday evening; that wasn’t the case at HRT.
Half an hour after the end of practice, Liuzzi and Karthikeyan were joined by senior team personnel in a closed-door meeting in the F1 paddock.
With just 60 minutes of practice to iron out their problems before tomorrow’s qualifying session, HRT’s prospects look bleak.
On Thursday night, the team used up one of its four exemptions for the season to work on the cars late into the night, with personnel still at the Albert Park circuit after 2.30am local time in a frantic rush to be ready for practice.
Another long night loomed on Friday, and before heading into the team meeting Karthikeyan admitted the situation was “touch and go”.
“Parts are still arriving from Europe and we’re trying to fix (them) in the car,” he said.
“(The mechanics) have been working very hard and we always knew it would be a last-minute thing. It’s going to be very difficult, to be honest.”