What do you get when you let Formula 1 teams decide the rules of the sport? A catastrophic qualifying mess which, once again, answered a question that nobody was asking.
Time and time again the teams have been given too much say in the running of Formula 1, for the most part, they generally like to disagree with proposed changes because if it doesn’t benefit them personally, why would they want to see change?
However, the new “revamped” qualifying format made Formula 1 look less of the pinnacle of motor racing and innovation, and more of a second tier motorsport category.
It’s one thing to make a substantial change to the regulations a fortnight before the season is about to begin – let alone be undecided whether the new system would be ready for the first race of the season – but it’s another to scrap the idea entirely after just the one race weekend.
Formula 1, the highest category in motorsport, was left with egg on its face as it was the team principals who unanimously agreed to change the qualifying format.
They believed by introducing an elimination system that would drop a driver every 90 seconds, it would force cars on the track and make the session more interesting.
Unfortunately, the format was a massive failure. While there was a lot of action during the first six to eight minutes of Q1, the rest of the session saw the top teams return to the garage once their timed laps were completed while the midfield was picked off one by one.
Most of the drivers eliminated weren’t even on the circuit at the time of elimination because once the 90 seconds was up, the driver eliminated was not able to register the flying lap they were on.
It became even more farcical in Q3 when there was three minutes left to run in the session and not a single car was on the circuit. Ferrari told their drivers they would not be completing a second run which confined Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to the garage, only to watch the Mercedes pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg return to the pits which led to an anti-climax qualifying.
Red Bull Racing’s Team Principal Christian Horner commented on the issue, suggesting that Formula 1 should apologise to fans for such a poor display – rather ignoring the fact that the F1 Strategy Group, of which he is a member, developed this proposed format to begin with.
“I think firstly we should apologize to the fans and the viewers because that’s not what qualifying should be, it should crescendo into something. The intentions were well meaning but we have to accept that it hasn’t worked, we got it wrong, and we should address it very quickly,” Horner said.
“My personal view is that we should go back to what we had in time for the next race, because what we saw today is not good for F1. I didn’t like the fact that the fast cars didn’t have a right to reply. You’ve got Ferraris sitting in the garage because there’s no point in them running again.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was also critical, labelling the new format “pretty rubbish”.
“Nobody tried to really damage the spectacle in qualifying on purpose. The basic idea of having a shootout and making it very exciting every 90 seconds somebody drops out could trigger results that give a certain variability that a favourite gets it wrong,” Wolff commented.
“So the basic concept was not completely stupid. But as with many things that devil is in the detail — and we saw today we actually complicated things at a time where we should simplify them and there were periods were cars were not running. Everybody has an opinion I doubt there is anyone in the room who thinks it is great.”
What’s important to remember, is that the team principal’s all voted to bring this format in for 2016, and none of them are taking much responsibility for it.
It’s not like the FIA introduced this rule and the team’s had to cope with it, then it would be understandable for team principals to criticize the new format.
This example of indecisiveness and attempt to fix issues that aren’t broken, rather than applying the same attention to the bigger issues Formula 1 has, is the sport’s biggest concern.
What sort of message does this send to the casual viewer of Formula 1? Where the sport’s participants unanimously vote in a rule, only to do a complete 360 once they’ve seen it in action and decide they don’t like it.
At least Formula 1 is unique in that respect, and that’s not a compliment.
Images via XPB Images & Red Bull Racing Content Pool