"These guys want to be the next Formula 1 drivers?" said one bemused team boss. Others were not so polite with their choice of words after GP2 qualifying at Monaco, where the supposed stars of tomorrow made a mockery of themselves and the championship.
Cars backed off frequently during qualifying © LAT
All of the problems, arguments and collisions stemmed from everybody's desire to get a clear lap around Monaco to get that supposedly crucial grid slot towards the front of the field. If they'd known that the drivers finishing third and fourth the next day were going to come from 11th and 26th on the grid, they might not have made such a fuss.
But as it was, everybody was coming almost to a stop at the end of the lap in a bid for a clear track. Naturally, once a couple do that before the final corner - where the stewards accepted it as a part of qualifying on the twisty street track - the logjam moves further round the lap.
At times there were queues of eight, nine or 10 cars backing up all the way from the Swimming Pool section. As Giedo van der Garde pointed out: "The Swimming Pool is blind and you are doing over 120mph through there. What are you supposed to do if you get there and you have a load of stopped cars?"
Van der Garde initially had pole position, but it was taken away as he was penalised for running into Oliver Turvey earlier in the session. There were more spectacular crashes for two sets of team-mates though: DAMS driver Romain Grosjean went over the top of Pal Varhaug at the exit of La Rascasse, while iSport's Sam Bird and Marcus Ericsson tried to turn two cars into one Limousine GP2 Dallara in the middle of the Swimming Pool section.
A stern paddock bulletin was issued after the session, which didn't sit well with the field. As the drivers that ran into the back of others on track, van der Garde, Grosjean and Ericsson were, by the letter of the law, responsible for "causing a collision", so they had to be penalised.
It was the latter of those penalties in particular that led to an explosive drivers' briefing. Ericsson had essentially been penalised for daring to take the first Swimming Pool chicane at full speed on his hot lap - outrageous! Virtually the whole field united against the stewards on that issue, to the point that the meeting was called to a halt and will be discussed again at a later date.
The officials had reduced the penalties from 10 places on the grid to five because the drivers that were hit had to "share some of the responsibility". But "sharing the responsibility" didn't amount to any form of penalty for the drivers who were going slowly on the racing line.
There were other clashes, as Stefano Coletti tried to pass a fast but repeatedly baulked Fabio Leimer into La Rascasse, while Dani Clos was livid after he felt he was chopped by Bird going into the final corner.
Ericsson just seconds away from disaster © LAT
Clos described the session as "like playing Mariokart" and it wasn't a day to be proud of for GP2. Post-qualifying, even those who had done well had glum faces, because the whole 30 minutes had generally been unpleasant. The series has been coming here since 2005, so why was it so much worse in 2011?
The Pirelli tyres appear to have played their part. The teams are starting to realise that in qualifying, the tyre is good for the first lap, and can be good for the third and fifth if the laps in between are taken easy.
That exaggerated how much people were slowing down on their 'cool-off' laps, and due to the increased level of marbles the tyres produce this year in GP2 and Formula 1, drivers were reluctant to move off line as much as in the past.
There were tales of traffic woe throughout the paddock on Thursday night, but Grosjean's was clearly the worst. He clipped Fairuz Fauzy on his first run and had to pit for a new front wing. But by the time he was back on track, there were yellow flags because Luca Filippi has crashed at Ste Devote.
He had another lap that was set for pole ruined by traffic after that, and then the session was red flagged for Coletti and Leimer's collision. The traffic pattern kept repeating itself, until Grosjean thought he was clear of team-mate Varhaug and ended up vaulting over the top of him on the exit of Rascasse. He was last, outside of the 107 per cent rule, and was then handed a grid penalty. As he said after race one: "I didn't start 26th, I started 31st!"
Grosjean pointed out that he started the lap he crashed on with 13 seconds of clear track in front of him. Yet by the exit of the Swimming Pool, he was literally climbing over the back of Varhaug.
Grosjean didn't get one clear lap © LAT
It was a frightening accident, and for an experienced driver like Grosjean, it was an illustration of the main concern regarding all the backing-off tactics.
"Hey, it's not about losing two or three tenths on your hot lap," he said. "That is fine, that is just what happens at Monaco. But what we had here became a safety issue. When there are people at risk of getting hurt, something needs to be done."
There were plenty of suggestions that split qualifying will be required at Monaco in the future, and a few glances towards the fact that Formula Renault 3.5 adopts that format. Some teams said that they would even accept 15 minutes for each half of the field if scheduling were a problem.
But the crux of the issue was probably a bit simpler. After their telling off on Friday morning, the majority of the field drove with a renewed sense of responsibility in the first race of the weekend. If that sort of maturity had been on show in qualifying, this whole mess could have been avoided.
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