IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT

Tyre switches serve up triple treat but qualifying farce drags on

If the Bahrain Grand Prix proved anything beyond the fact that Mercedes still have a very quick car but will continue to be challenged by Ferrari in 2016, it's that the new system wherein Pirelli brings along three different compounds of tyre rather than two works a treat.

And that people in Formula One should be issued forth with bullet-proof shoes.

We had a race full of excitement, where several disparate strategies were in play among the teams.

Winner Nico Rosberg and challenger Kimi Raikkonen, for example, took the safe option and ran used supersofts, new softs, used supersofts and new softs in their three-stop strategies.

Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton started on used supersofts, then switched to new mediums after being assaulted and delayed by Valtteri Bottas in the first corner, then went on to used supersofts and finally new softs in his three stops.

There was variety, making for an unpredictable event, creating plenty of overtaking, and the sight of several cars and drivers in unaccustomed places at various times... There's ample proof that a new batch of stars is emerging to threaten the Old Guard. All of that is exactly what a beleaguered sport needs right now. Which makes it all the worse that those tasked with running it keep shooting themselves in the foot.

Haas gambled even more aggressively, thanks to Ruth Buscombe who had masterminded their Melbourne success.

Romain Grosjean started with two sets of new supersofts, then a used set and finally some new softs. That enabled the Frenchman in the new team to do one better than they had on their debut in Australia, by finishing a remarkable fifth.

By contrast, Williams' attempt at a two-stopper failed miserably even though Felipe Massa and Bottas were running second and third at the end of the opening lap after making sensational starts.

There was variety, making for an unpredictable event, creating plenty of overtaking, and the sight of several cars and drivers in unaccustomed places at various times.

Throw in tremendous performances from rookies Stoffel Vandoorne and Pascal Wehrlein for McLaren and Manor respectively, and from regulars Kevin Magnussen for Renault and Marcus Ericsson for Sauber, and there's ample proof that a new batch of stars is emerging to threaten the Old Guard.

All of that is exactly what a beleaguered sport needs right now. Which makes it all the worse that those tasked with running it keep shooting themselves in the foot.

The new countdown eliminator system of qualifying was crucified by fans on social media after Melbourne, and for once the teams were agreed that it should be scrapped in favour of the old 2015 system, which worked great.

Having all of these highly competitive people singing from the same hymn sheet - well, it's as rare as a politician without a secret agenda.

So in the aftermath, International Automobile Federation president Jean Todt came up with proposals that specifically ignored last year's system, which meant Bahrain featured the detested new system once more.

Cue more public opprobrium.

In a 90-minute meeting on Sunday morning, the teams laid it out that they were fed up with the way commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone and Todt seem, they contend, hell-bent on risking serious damage to F1's image.

Ecclestone and Todt remain completely unmoved, despite the apparent unanimity. The 2015 qualifying format remains firmly off the agenda. Reverting to it, they contend, would be more confusing for fans. The team bosses vehemently disagree.

The meeting broke up in an embarrassing impasse, and the world was told that there would be a fresh meeting by teleconference on Thursday.

In the meantime, the team principals have been given a fresh proposal to "consider". Read: Get ready to accept.

The latest suggestion follows the qualifying format of last year, but each driver will do two timed laps in each of the three sessions, and their grid position will be determined by an aggregate of the two. And if that is not accepted, the abhorrent 2016 system will remain even if it short-changes the fans.

That's a bit like asking whether you'd prefer to sit in Old Sparky or get a lethal injection.

Historic note: After single-lap qualifying was run in 2003 to 2004, it gave way to a hugely unpopular aggregated system in 2005. Back then drivers did a single lap on low fuel on Saturday afternoon, then another on race fuel on Sunday morning. Their times were aggregated to determine their grid positions.

It was cumbersome and confusing, and lasted only six races.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline 'Tyre switches serve up triple treat but qualifying farce drags on'. Print Edition | Subscribe