We may look back with amusement on the so called farce that was the qualifying sessions for the 2016 Australian GP as the BBC declared on Sunday morning: “The teams made a unanimous decision at a meeting in Melbourne on Sunday.”
Yet the reality is that there was no unanimous decision as Autosport reveals today that Force India were not in favour of scrapping the new qualifying format. “We didn’t vote for it [to be changed back],” says Bob Fernley, who insisted it be noted that he and his team were “strictly against” such a “knee-jerk reaction.”
Given that the origination of the new qualifying format has been ascribed to the race promoters who are part of the F1 commission, and that both the F1 commission and the World Motor Sport Council have to ratify any change – then a reversion to the old system of qualifying is not yet a done deal.
Fernley presents the case that the change in the qualifying format was not to just spice up Saturday’s, but also to create an impact on the race. “The tyres, the qualifying, everything had an impact on this race. Maybe we should wait a little bit more”.
There is merit in Fernley’s observations because the decision by Ferrari to restart Vettel on the supersoft tyre, rather than a soft compound which would have offered them more flexibility over the timing of the final stint, was due to Ferrari’s tyre selection and qualifying runs. Vettel did not have two sets of new soft tyres left following the red flag.
Also the new qualifying format did as expected, as there were unexpected big name causalities in both Q1 and Q2 as Daniil Kvyat and Valtteri Bottas failed to make it through to the next session. Fernley queries why the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater when Q1 and Q2 were more exciting than usual. “When was the last time you saw the amount of action we had in Q1 or Q2?” he said. “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”.
There is no question Q3 was a damp squib and with almost 4 minutes of the session remaining, the top four were sorted. Yet this eventuality was foreseen by many as Sebastian Vettel explained. “I don’t see the point why everyone is surprised,” said Vettel. “We all said what is going to happen. It happened. We were told to wait and see. Now we saw and I don’t think it was very exciting”.
Lewis Hamilton appeared to suggest a change in format was the right idea, but the execution was wrong. “Ultimately it is a good step that we tried something new but it’s trial and error,” he said. “Maybe not just go back to the old way.”
Nico Rosberg reiterated a possible tweak to the new format that had been suggested by a number of people prior to the 2016 Australian GP. “It’s good F1 tries [ideas] but we have to go back, for the last one [Q3] especially,” said the German.
Paul Hembery has indicated Pirelli is not happy with a return to qualifying of old. “We haven’t heard all of the arguments,” he said. “There were a number of positives and negatives from the qualifying.”
This entire saga was the result of the reaction to a threat from Bernie Ecclestone to introduce a handicap system to decide the F1 starting grid. He reiterated this following Saturday’s debacle in Melbourne: “My idea was a simple one – you leave qualifying alone,” he said. “It’s been good for the last 60 years, and it’s good for the guy that wants to have more poles than anybody else, and he should be allowed that.
“But I wanted to take the results of the last race, and the guy that won that race, would have so many seconds, or tenths of a second, added to his qualifying time.
“So that might put the guy on pole in sixth or seventh or wherever [on the grid], and then we would get a mixed-up grid and some good racing for at least half the race”.
Given Force India’s and Pirelli’s disinclination to scrap the new qualifying format, it is simple to envisage a lively F1 commission meeting where the sport’s supremo along with his sponsors and race promoters also refuse to scrap the new qualifying system unless they get their way on a revised starting grid handicap system. And once again gridlock will rule the F1 roost.