Formula One: Teams call for end to farcical qualifying as new shoot-out rule in disarray

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton giving the fans a thumbs-up sign at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit after he qualified in pole position yesterday for the Australian Grand Prix. Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes Motorsport, said the controversial qualif
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton giving the fans a thumbs-up sign at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit after he qualified in pole position yesterday for the Australian Grand Prix. Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes Motorsport, said the controversial qualifying format was "rubbish".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

New three-stage shoot-out rule in disarray as Red Bull boss calls for F1 to apologise to fans

MELBOURNE • Teams and drivers called for an immediate end to Formula One's new qualifying format on Saturday after it made an embarrassing debut at the Australian Grand Prix.

Reigning world champion Hamilton tore around the circuit in a searing 1min 23.837sec in the third and final session of qualifying, eclipsing the circuit's previous fastest lap set by Michael Schumacher in 2004.

But the exhilarating drive was almost forgotten as his rivals chose not to come out on the track to chase his mark, despite having ample time to make a challenge.

The last five minutes would have been excruciatingly awkward for Formula One management as the clock wound down with no drivers on the track and with fans left bemused in the grandstands.

The new format, based on drivers being progressively eliminated during the three sessions rather than at the end of each stage, was intended to add excitement but ultimately sapped much of the suspense.

  • Qualifying quirks

  • Q1: The usual suspects fell out one by one, starting with Manor Racing's Pascal Wehrlein and then his team-mate Rio Haryanto. The only surprise was Daniil Kvyat in his Red Bull in 18th, while Jolyon Palmer escaped the drop on his final lap.

    Q2: No surprises here either with the twin Renaults of Palmer and Kevin Magnussen out, while McLaren's Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button got out of their cars early on the instructions of their team.

    Q3: There was almost no action as Sergio Perez and Nico Huelkenberg got out of their Force India cars, satisfied with ninth and 10th respectively, then cars started to park back in their garages until only Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were left out on track.

    THE TIMES, LONDON

It was approved only two weeks before the race, prompting a round of condemnations from drivers, who liked the previous system and complained of not being consulted.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said Formula One should apologise to the fans, and his Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff said the new system was "rubbish".

The new three-stage format, which is meant to finish in a top-two shoot-out, was also castigated by the drivers, led by four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

"For the people in the grandstand I don't feel it's the right way to go," the German fumed. "There's no cars to watch and in the end they want to see Lewis (Hamilton), Nico (Rosberg), Kimi (Raikkonen), whoever, pushing it to the limit at the end of the session when the track is supposed to be best."

Fans took to social media to pour scorn on the unpopular format that left Melbourne's Albert Park empty yesterday as drivers stayed in their respective garages and gave up the fight for pole position.

A dismayed Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One's chief executive, watched qualifying from his London home with growing unease.

"I watched it but I have to say I wasn't enthusiastic about it from day one," he said. "It was pretty c**p, but this is what we have got until we can change it."

Team principals are expected to attend an emergency meeting today, before the start of the race.

Their mission is clear: To have the controversial new format scrapped immediately for a return to the system that worked well until this season.

Asked whether the format should and could be changed before the second round of the championship in Bahrain on April 3, Ecclestone replied: "Yes. This idea was the FIA's (the governing body).

"If we can get them to agree to change and we agree to change, we can change it. Or if we get all the teams to agree with us, we can change it."

Hamilton will start on pole for the 50th time in his career, joining elite company; only Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna have passed the half-century mark of poles.

If Hamilton was satisfied with a job done, he was not surprised at the uproar. "We said at the beginning it wasn't the right way but you can't knock it until you try it," he said.

Hamilton's team-mate Rosberg will start from second place on the grid.

Vettel will start from third, but he was candid when he admitted that he gave up on pole position because he - like the rest - chose to save tyres rather than chew rubber on a fruitless quest for pole.

"It is wrong when the clock is ticking and no one is on track," he said.

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 20, 2016, with the headline 'TEAMS ASK FOR END TO FARCICAL QUALIFYING'. Print Edition | Subscribe