New F1 qualifying system to be scrapped after one disastrous outing
Formula One’s farcical new qualifying system is set to be scrapped following just one disastrous outing after it attracted the scorn of fans around the world and prompted a rare outbreak of agreement among Bernie Ecclestone, the drivers and teams that it should be abandoned immediately.
Along with millions watching on television and 70,000 in Melbourne’s Albert Park, Ecclestone looked on in horror as most of the leading drivers stayed in the garage during the final part of qualifying during what was supposed to be a great climax.
By the time the chequered flag waved, there had not been a car on the circuit for three minutes.
Formula One’s chief executive vowed last night (Saturday) that the format would be ditched by the next race, in Bahrain in two weeks.
Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, the front three, all agreed the elimination-style system should be abandoned. Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, described it as “pretty rubbish” while Christian Horner, his counterpart at Red Bull, said the sport owed its followers an apology.
Reverting to the old system - or a -hybrid of the two where the elimination element is kept for the first two parts of qualifying but scrapped for the finale - would require the unanimous agreement of the teams, but the sport appears united in its view.
The teams met here on Sunday before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix and sources do not expect any opposition to changing qualifying once again.
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, left, and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton race side by side during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia. Picture/AP.
The format whereby cars are eliminated at 90-second intervals has been an embarrassment from the start to finish. Agreed just a month before the season began, it went through several iterations before it was introduced here.
Ecclestone said: “It was pretty awful, but it wasn’t my ideal at all. I am sure we can change it for Bahrain. We should be man enough - we gave it a try, it didn’t work, let’s find a new way.”
Jean Todt, the president of the FIA, Formula One’s governing body, said he wanted the situation to be thoroughly analysed but added he thought the problem was more with the allocation of tyres than qualifying itself.
Most of the leading teams simply sat in the garage so they could save their rubber for the race.
Todt said: “We have expert people who can analyse in detail. I want my people discussing with the teams and drivers to come back with comments and in light of that we will address totally the situation.
“In my opinion watching from the TV, the main issue was a lack of tyres available. We can change it but we need unanimous agreement.”
But according to most people in the paddock, all the analysis that needed to be done had been done.
Vettel, who qualified third, was the most scathing. Having abandoned his car in the garage long before the end of qualifying, the German had time to change into jeans for the press conference. Surely he was making a point.
“I don’t see the point why everyone is surprised,” the four-time champion said. “We all said what is going to happen. It happened. We were told to wait and see. Now we saw and I don’t think it was very exciting. For the people in the grandstands, I don’t feel it is the right way to go as there are no cars to watch. I don’t think we need the criticism now, we had the criticism already but surely it is wrong way to go. That is what we said.”
Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez attempts to control his car after colliding with McLaren driver Fernando Alonso during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday. Picture/AP.
After securing his 50th career pole, Hamilton was more generous to the sport’s rulers but agreed with Vettel that the format should be abandoned.
Hamilton said: “We said at the beginning that it wasn’t the right way but it’s like you can’t knock it before you try it. We tried it and all the engineers were right. Ultimately it is a good step that we tried something new but it’s trial and error. Maybe not just go back to the old way.”
But Vettel hit back: “They have a certain responsibility as well, you can’t just try things that many of us criticise, us included. You can’t just turn around and say that was the wrong thing. We need to be sensible and do the right changes.”
Fans vented their fury as driver after driver sat in the garage during the final part of qualifying after what had been a promising opening.
It began with a flurry of activity but even then the timing screens on television did not show the clock counting down, adding to the confusion.Those in the grandstands did not even see a proper duel for pole position on yet another day when Formula One shot itself in the foot.