Vitaly Petrov breaking down on-track towards the end of Q2 – and the resulting red flag – caused a problem for many of the midfield runners, not least his Renault team-mate Nick Heidfeld.
Petrov had just set the fourth fastest lap before his came to an abrupt halt, and was already through to Q3. The Russian clearly had competitive pace, and was therefore understandably frustrated in not being able to convert it into a strong grid position.
“I am very disappointed with what happened after having just completed a very fast lap which put me in fourth position at the end of Q2,” he said. “The car lost power so I stopped on the side of the track. The track was getting quicker and my times were up from this morning, things were going very well. Because of the power failure, I couldn't move off the track and so that was the end of my qualifying. The positive thing is the car was looking fast and I hope I can make up some ground tomorrow from P10 on the grid.”
Heidfeld was unable to do a clean flying lap after the restart, and failed to make it through to the top ten shoot-out. He will start right down in 16th place, far below where the car could have potentially qualified.
“It's quite frustrating to be starting from P16 because I don't think it's a fair reflection of our pace,” said the German. “We were always going to do one run on the soft tyres in Q2, but the red flag made the last few minutes on Q2 very busy. You really needed to be first in the queue at the end of the pit lane because there was not much time to get around and cross the line before the end of the session. I managed to do one final lap, but I was stuck in traffic and I couldn't get a clean lap.
“As I said, our race pace is definitely better than our grid position, but starting from P16 is not going to be easy. I think it's a track where you can overtake so hopefully I can make a good start, like in the previous two races, and fight for points.”
Chief engineer Alan Permane can not understand exactly what caused Petrov’s car to stop, but he did explain why Heidfeld was only going to one run in Q2.
“We are still investigating exactly what happened [with Petrov],” he said. “It's clear that he lost power and the engine died. We believe the air supply to the engine was cut off. It couldn't be restarted and the car got stuck in gear, which is why he stopped on the track.
“Nick's time from Q1 suggested that it might be difficult for him to make it through to Q3. That's why we wanted to run right at the end of Q2 to take advantage of the maximum track evolution. As it happened, Vitaly's car brought out the red flags at exactly the wrong moment, and Nick then got caught up in the traffic in the busy rush at the end of Q2.”
The poor qualifying performance for Renault does mean, however, that each driver has an extra pair of soft tyres for the race, and Permane is still optimistic of a decent result tomorrow.
“I think we can expect to see our pace being relatively better in the race, even compared to Vitaly's good qualifying pace,” he said. “We know our car is fast off the line; we've got very good straight-line speed and the R31 looks after its tyres well. There's no reason why we can't bring two cars home in the points.”