When Q1 started, there was action from the start and very exciting from a fan’s perspective. It’s a more exciting format of qualifying, but at what cost?
Well, confusion. For starters, the drivers had to come into the pits for new tyres – you know, because Pirelli have been ordered by F1 to build tyres that do not last for an entire session. That meant the drivers near the bottom of the order were not given sufficient time to come back out and rescue themselves from the elimination spots. Nasr was caught out by the timings, as were Manor drivers Pascal Wehrlin and Rio Haryanto. Grosjean, driving for the Haas F1 Team, was on his redemption lap, only to be told with three corners to go that he was eliminated with no chance to redeem himself.
Whoever decided to improve qualifying three weeks before the start of the F1 season needs to decide why he or she made that call. None of the drivers seemed prepared, much less their teams. The only people who knew what was happening, it seems, were the F1 bosses. A lack of an on-screen, ninety second counter graphic meant the teams were not able to predict when to let their drivers go out or who was next to be eliminated, until it was too late.
The aim of the new qualifying format was to mix up the grid and catch out the big boys, but that hasn’t really worked. The idea, it seems, was to have an all-out scrap between the drivers, but what actually happened was that the top ten peeled into the pits after one or two hot laps and left the rest to squabble over the final grid positions.
As Qualifying session two came to an end and Q3 began, one thing that was obvious was that the drivers who knew they were in the elimination spots were not bothering to go out again as there was not enough time to drive around the track on an out-lap and then to start a new timed lap. The result was that, in the final six minutes of Q3, six of the eight drivers in contention retreated back to the pit lane, and drivers such as Force India’s Sergio Perez, who was sitting in ninth at the time, not bothering to go out as his team mate Hulkenberg’s ninety seconds of doom was drawing to a close.
Inevitably, this left only Rosberg, in fourth, and Hamilton in a provisional first, to fight it out for pole position. And then came the final three minutes, by which time Rosberg sat in second and Hamilton in first place. There were still two whole minutes left of the session, and yet everyone had finished and Sebastian Vettel had enough time (which he would not have had last season) to change onto his jeans and waltz around the paddock.
The premise was that all the drivers would remain on the track for the full amount of time in each session, but what actually happened was that the fastest three drivers, Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel, all set their fast laps and retreated to the pits. Therefore, the new qualifying format failed to deliver what it promised.
The only thing that was shaken up was when the drivers went out onto the track. Last year, and every year since the now old format of three qualifying knockout sessions was introduced in 2006, the too drivers would wait until the dying minutes of qualifying, when the track was at its core temperature, to go out and set a fast lap. Now, those drivers were first onto the track and the first to leave.
The new format was also brought in to cut down on the number of drivers slowing down at the end of a lap to create a space between them and the car in front, only to get in the way of the driver behind them and ruin their fast lap and receive a penalty in the process.
Intentions aside, the only positive thing to come out of an otherwise disorganised, not thought-through qualifying format, was that Hamilton qualified in his 50th pole position, a feat only matched by two other drivers – his hero Ayrton Senna, and Michael Schumacher.
Unfortunately, that was rather overshadowed by the shambles that the new qualifying format ensued, and which made a mockery of both the F1 bosses and their organisation skills.
An emergency meeting to discuss reverting back to the old 2006-2015 system has been organised for tomorrow, Sunday 19 March. All the teams are expected to attend and vote in favour of reverting to normality.