Team GBR will start from 10th and 13th in A1GP’s two South African races after the trouble-hit series once again failed to supply all its teams with the machinery they needed to compete.
Five teams, including the Brits, were forced to miss the scheduled Friday practice sessions completely, and others suffered reduced running, after A1GP decided its cars would need special parts in their fuel systems to cope with the high-altitude Kyalami circuit – but then couldn’t supply enough in time.
The series was left scrambling to schedule extra practice sessions for the affected teams early on the morning of qualifying. Among them was Team USA whose driver, IndyCar racer Marco Andretti, said: “Not being able to get on track at all on Friday put us behind, for sure.”
For the similarly-disadvantaged British team, driver Danny Watts was scheduled to squeeze two full stints in before the normal pre-qualifying practice session at 11am. He ran second-fastest in the first session, but spun in the second while still familiarising himself with the limits of the car.
Back in the pits, a change of nosecone revealed electrical problems that kept him off the track until the final 20 minutes of the third session – and the knock-on effect from these problems wrecked qualifying, too.
For qualifying, A1GP has reintroduced it PowerBoost ‘joker’ idea, which allows the PowerBoost button to be used for one lap of the four available in qualifying (two for the sprint and two for the feature). This gives the drivers an extra 60bhp for that lap – and a shot at pole ahead of teams that used their boost in the qualifying for the other race.
Team GBR – like several other nations – chose to save their PowerBoost until the fourth and final session, when the track would be at its optimum condition and when Watts would have had the maximum time to learn the circuit.
But with a hectic final minutes on the cards the Brazilian car crashed heavily and the session was red-flagged, leaving Monaco with an unexpected feature race pole position ahead of Malaysia and New Zealand – and several teams frustrated by not getting the chance to use their boost at all.
Watts, who had earlier qualified for the sprint in 13th behind the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland, was left stranded in 10th, while championship leader Adam Carroll of Ireland managed a pair of sixth places.
The British driver said: “Our strategy was to put all our eggs in one basket for the last run while I got more mileage with the car due to our problems in practice. Unfortunately we didn’t get to finish the lap, but we’ve got to take the positives and that is that the car has improved a lot, it’s much more driveable and I’ve got much more experience of the circuit.
“It’s been a difficult testing day for us but we are so strong as a team that I’m sure we’ll bounce back tomorrow and we’re looking forward to it.”
Team boss Katie Clements added: “It’s been a fairly frustrating day in terms of our limited track time but, once again, we’ve gone out and performed well in qualifying. It’s a real shame we didn’t get to put in the last lap as I’m sure we would have scored a good result. We’re focusing on tomorrow now and are eager to get racing.”
For the Irish, Carroll said: “That’s the way it goes sometimes, I suppose. I don’t think we’ve ever been so disappointed with two sixth places in qualifying because we could have had a crack at pole at the end. I was happy with the third segment of qualifying and I knew we’d have been right there in the final segment but for the red flag. The circuit is extremely aggressive on tyres so it will be important to be fast and consistent and make sure the rubber lasts.”
This weekend’s problems with equipment are not the first time the series – the self-styled World Cup of Motorsport – has suffered problems this season.
Delays in completing the new spec, Ferrari-inspired, cars forced the cancellation of the planned first race meeting of the season, while several teams including the Brits had to sit out the revised opener a month later because there were still not enough cars. One team, Pakistan, has yet to receive a car that its driver, the taller-than-average Adam Khan, can fit into comfortably.
New fewer than four race weekends of the 11 originally planned have failed to happen – the Italian round because of car delays, Indonesia because the circuit failed its FIA check, a ‘venue to be announced’ race on March 29 that never materialised, and most recently the Mexico City races of March 15 have been lost.
Only two weekends remain after this one if Mexico cannot be rearranged – the Algarve on April 12 and Brands Hatch on May 3.