No one does controversy quite like Formula One. Perhaps it’s why so many of us love it. But there’s no way this journalist would file the qualifying shambles in Melbourne as anything positive – and not because they tried the new elimination format. Quite the opposite..
Sure, the end of Q3 was a damp squib – no cars on track and a lot of annoyed people lambasting the spectacle. Agreed, it wasn’t great.
From then on, the momentum was hard to shake. Given the initial idea was greeted with bemusement, any issues come its public debut were always going to put the pressure on. According to Lewis Hamilton, what played out had been predicted by a lot of people. Clever folk work in Formula One – they know how to get around things like rules.
But what really stank was that come Sunday morning, the teams had “listened to the fans” and “unanimously” voted to scrap the new elimination qualification set-up and revert back to last year’s version from round two in Bahrain.
And that is the embarrassing bit – the idea was conceived in a hurry, put out in a botch and then ditched at the first sign of trouble. If anything emphasises the rudderless nature of F1…
Some people wanted to give it time – including Hamilton. Others seemed to ignore the fact in terms of Q1 and Q2, the elimination idea had plenty of redeeming features. All it needed was a bit longer for teams to react to the situation on track; 90 seconds wasn’t long enough to get out a fresh timed lap. Maybe you could double the time and eliminate two at a go?
In fact, the best idea in terms of change would have been to restore a shortened Q3 to its shootout format. The rest was fine.
Yet you sense a lot of people had already made up their minds that they didn’t like the new set-up and they couldn’t wait for a reason to flip it back. In which case, if anyone dares complain about the lack of track action or mixed-up grid due to qualifying in Bahrain, they can go swivel.
BBC Sport’s Andrew Benson made a cracking point: The qualifying shake-up was never about improving qualifying; it was about shaking things up for the race. That’s the important bit of any weekend – it always will be.
What muddies the waters now are the words of Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley, who said his team did NOT want the qualifying change to be reversed off the back of Australia. How does that work as a “unanimous” decision?
“Part of the reason the qualifying (change) was done was the race – how can you make that decision if you have not even done the race?” Fernley told Autosport.
“We didn’t vote for it (to be changed back). I asked for it to be noted that we were strictly against it on principle and time should be given for it. I hope that more people will take our position with a bit of time to think about it.
“When was the last time you saw the amount of action we had in Q1 or Q2? Why do we need to focus on Q3; why throw out Q1? Q2 was almost better so why not tweak it a little bit more.
“I have never seen a situation where we have been running the super-soft tyres absolutely flat-out qualifying and lots of mistakes happening and it was a real pressure cooker situation. Why can’t we take the positives and then correct the weaknesses then look at it again?”
So many clever people; so many stupid decisions. It would be lovely to think that Formula One could have used some common sense as they reacted to qualifying during the opening weekend. Sadly, that ship has sailed and the last thing anyone is going to do is change their minds again before Bahrain.
They just better not complain if they don’t like the results.
♦ Michael Bailey is a member of the NRF1 Podcast crew. Follow Michael on Twitter @michaeljbailey