SOCHI, Russia — Fernando Alonso thinks fans at the Sochi Autodrom probably enjoyed the Formula Two support race more than qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix itself on Saturday.
Qualifying in Sochi was bizarre, with a slew of engine penalties meaning Alonso, Toro Rosso and Red Bull were already set for starts at the back of the grid, while it also exposed an odd quirk in F1’s regulations. The 10 cars which progress to Q3, the final session, must start on the tyre it set its quickest Q2 tyre on, while everyone else effectively gets a free choice.
That was especially problematic on Saturday afternoon, with the hyper-soft tyre — the softest Pirelli’s range for the weekend — looking like a very poor option for the race due to its incredibly limited durability. As a result, Renault kept both its cars in the garage in Q2 to effectively ensure it did not progress to the top 10 shootout on an inconvenient tyre.
Alonso, who is quitting F1 at the end of the season, was unimpressed with what he saw.
“For us it’s OK, this is what we’re used to and we follow whatever,” Alonso said. “For the fans, it’s maybe a problem. It’s more asking the fans what they think to have a nonsense Q1 and a not very important Q2.
“At least I think they enjoyed the F2 race. It’s definitely the most fun part of the day for the spectator.”
Ricciardo, one of the drivers set for a penalty, said: “It is weird when you know you are not really going out. You wake up and know you are going to do about eight laps or something.”
Haas was one of the teams to progress to Q3 as normal and Kevin Magnussen, who qualified best of the rest but will start on the hyper-soft tyre, is not sure Renault’s gamble will pay off in what is expected to be a one-stop race.
“They are probably starting off the soft and we will start on the hyper-soft. Once we pit off that, which I imagine will be quite early, we will most likely be behind the Renault guys. But then they will have to pit.
“So they’re not the biggest threat I don’t think… We will pit and get behind them and they will need a gap that’s big enough to pit and get out in front, they’re going to be older tyres and we get out on older tyres. I see the Force Indias as a bigger threat.”