Formula One does a U-turn on qualifying

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso revealed he is "sad" at the direction Formula One is taking with its recent changes.
McLaren driver Fernando Alonso revealed he is "sad" at the direction Formula One is taking with its recent changes.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Changes could be introduced at season opener despite earlier suggestions of delays

LONDON • Formula One's new knockout qualifying format has been approved in its original form by the World Motor Sport Council.

Autosport reported yesterday that the new system will be introduced at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 20, despite concerns aired by Formula One Management (FOM) regarding its implementation due to software issues.

The three qualifying periods will remain, with Q1 to run for 16 minutes, with the slowest car eliminated after seven minutes and then every 90 seconds thereafter until 15 remain to head into Q2.

The second period is to run for 15 minutes, and will follow the same process as Q1, with the first driver to be eliminated after six minutes until eight remain.

For the 14-minute Q3, the first driver will be knocked out after five minutes, with the session continuing until only the man on pole is left standing. The new system would see a car eliminated every 90 seconds once a "safe" time period expires and until the quota is complete, ensuring constant track action.

Previously, the driver of a quick car could save a set of tyres by sitting out much of the session and only putting in a late lap to be sure of progress to the next phase.

The original idea was approved following meetings of the Strategy Group and F1 Commission in Geneva last week, only for Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone to reveal soon after FOM's potential difficulties in relaying the information to the television broadcasters.

He suggested that due to the problems, the new system could be postponed until later in the year, possibly not starting until the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

Reports then emerged earlier this week of a slight change to the format, with Q1 and Q2 to adopt the knockout configuration, but with Q3 continuing under the system that has been in place since 2006.

That would mean all eight drivers competing throughout the duration as concerns were aired the dwindling number of cars would be unattractive to fans in the grandstands and for TV.

But the WMSC, at its meeting in Geneva yesterday, opted to go with the full knockout format, with FOM now understood to have informed Ecclestone that the software could be ready in time for the race at Melbourne's Albert Park in two weeks.

The proposal to change the qualifying format, however, has not gone down well with some drivers.

"It (the old format) was fine, it was okay. Why confuse people more?" said Lewis Hamilton, who can win a third successive title with Mercedes this season and the fourth of his career.

Fernando Alonso, a double world champion who endured a nightmare season with McLaren last year, said that he felt "sad" for the sport and the direction it had taken with the qualifying change.

"It's sad. I am sad," said the Spaniard. "I am sad for the sport... it doesn't look right... too many changes, and the complexity of the rules, also for the spectators, is quite high."

Force India's Sergio Perez made it clear the revamp is not to the drivers' liking. "We shared our thoughts with (FIA race director) Charlie (Whiting)," he said . "We're not happy with the (new) rules.

"It's complicated for us already, so for the fans it will just make things more and more complicated. We feel the qualifying at the moment is really good. I don't think there is a reason to change that."

Hamilton also blasted the sport as "broken" and "lacking in direction" on Thursday.

The autosport.com website and BBC reported that when asked if F1 is "broken, lacking direction, or in rude health?", the Briton replied: "I would probably say the first two you suggested."

He added: "I don't want to say too much, but I do agree with the first two things you said."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2016, with the headline 'FORMULA ONE DOES A U-TURN ON QUALIFYING'. Print Edition | Subscribe