Formula One: F1 bosses keep hated qualifying format

Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone (left) reacting next to former Formula One champion Niki Lauda as they watch the men's Alpine Skiing World Cup Super G race on Jan 22, 2016.
Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone (left) reacting next to former Formula One champion Niki Lauda as they watch the men's Alpine Skiing World Cup Super G race on Jan 22, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

In bizarre U-turn, Ecclestone says to leave things for Bahrain and then decide what to do

LONDON • It shocked and confused spectators and viewers around the world, angered the drivers and exasperated the teams.

Despite that, Formula One's decision-makers, who had vowed to get rid of the controversial new knockout qualifying system that threatened to overshadow the first grand prix of the season, voted to keep it on Thursday.

As U-turns go, this was in the brake-screeching and stomach-churning category. A format that no one wanted and that was a flop in Melbourne last Saturday will be used again at the second race, the Bahrain Grand Prix next week.

"The outcome I think is that we are going to leave things as they are for this race in Bahrain," the sport's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone told, after a vote by the Strategy Group that agrees what to put forward to the broader F1 Commission.

"After that, we will then have a good look and decide whether what was done was the right thing to do, the wrong thing to do, does it need modifying, does it need scrapping?"

The Strategy Group comprises Ecclestone as the representative of the commercial rights holder, essentially CVC Capital Partners, the private equity group and controlling shareholder; plus Jean Todt, president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA); and six of the teams - McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, Williams and Force India.

The F1 commission, which includes all the teams, race promoters and sponsors as well as the FIA and Ecclestone's commercial rights holders Formula One Management, had yet to complete their voting process.

However, any change to the existing rules has to be unanimous at this stage. Fans were baffled, filling social media with their frustration yesterday at a sport that seems unable to make up its mind from one day to the next.

Only 24 hours earlier, F1 drivers had posted an open letter calling in to question the shambolic governance of a sport that has lost its way.

The sport's stakeholders all agreed unanimously to change the qualifying format, even though many fans felt there was nothing wrong with it, only weeks before the season's opening race in Australia last weekend.

They then agreed, initially with a similar degree of solidarity, that it had not worked in Melbourne.

The new format, based on racers being progressively eliminated during the three sessions rather than at the end of each, was intended to add excitement but instead took away any suspense with no cars on track in the final minutes.

"I'm the first one to say we shouldn't be speaking bad about things on TV, but I think the new qualifying format is pretty rubbish," Mercedes motor sports director Toto Wolff told Sky Sports.

However, divisions soon emerged, with Force India deputy principal Bob Fernley suggesting it should be given more time and that the sport should refrain from knee-jerk reactions. Some called for the first two new phases to be retained before reverting to the old format, while others wanted to go back to the familiar 2015 version.

Ecclestone vowed to get rid of it. That was that, then. Until Thursday, when the same people against it were suddenly for it.

The 85-year-old Briton's explanation to Autosport was clear. "As nobody knows what the right thing to do is, we have said we will stay where we are and have a look after (Bahrain)," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2016, with the headline 'F1 BOSSES KEEP HATED QUALIFYING FORMAT'. Print Edition | Subscribe