Formula One's Qualifying Quandary

ALTHOUGH the Australian Grand Prix was an entertaining race, despite ending with a predictable result, it wasn’t quite interesting enough to take attention away from the previous day’s qualifying session, which was seen by many fans and drivers as shambolic.

The final five minutes of qualifying featured no cars going out on track, with teams deciding it was much better to stay in the pit lane and save a set of tyres than try to move one or two places up the grid. Ironic cheers greeted the chequered flag at the end of the session, with the new qualifying format failing to live up to the FIA’s expectations.

The decision to move from the old format, which had been in place since 2006, to a new elimination format, where drivers are eliminated every 90 seconds in each of the three sessions, was taken during the middle of pre-season testing, and was instantly met with scepticism by pundits, who were worried that the new system would prove to be too confusing to new fans of the sport, causing them to lose interest. It wasn’t just fans who struggled with the system, with many teams not realising that their cars wouldn’t be able to make it round the track in time to avoid elimination. This led to all three sessions starting busy, but meant very little action towards the end of each of the sessions.

No-one will argue that the sport has been plagued by one-team domination for too long, with Mercedes winning all but six of the races over the last two years, and Red Bull enjoying four straight titles before that. However, the old qualifying system was still capable of providing excitement, with bigger teams sometimes misjudging traffic and/or weather conditions, leading to mixed up grids. The elimination idea was chosen without much consultation from the drivers, and was picked ahead of a reverse grid idea proposed by promoter Bernie Ecclestone, which would have likely led to teams purposely trying to qualify lower down the grid for a better starting slot.

Teams then met with the FIA and Ecclestone to try and come up with a new system in time for the Bahrain GP, with all parties agreeing that something needs to change to stop the sport losing viewers. However, because of the complicated nature of rule changes in F1, with unanimous approval needed from all the teams before changes can take place at such short notice, the system will remain in place in Bahrain, with another decision to be taken after the race. The mess around qualifying and other rule changes, such as the restriction on radio communications which were relaxed just hours before the first race, have led the drivers to write an open letter to the FIA and Ecclestone claiming the sport needs to change its ‘obsolete and ill-structured’ processes. Time will tell whether their ideas are taken on board, and if it will be enough to stop the exodus of TV audiences across the globe.

Luke Etheridge

Featured image: XPB Images

Leave a Reply