Elimination qualifying a damp squib

F1 is adept at shooting itself in the foot. Following a 2015 season admittedly lacking in intrigue, the winter has been filled by discussions regarding how to improve the sport. The F1 Commission unanimously voted for a new elimination qualifying format three weeks before the start of the season in an attempt to spice up the action on a Sunday.

With today’s qualifying session being the debut for this new idea, it is evident that a rethink is required. Missing a crescendo, void of surprises and short of laps, calling it a shambles would not be too far from the truth.

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Image Credit: Rachel Clarke (via Flickr) [CC-BY-NC-2.0]

This morning has been tough for F1 fans. I rarely find fault with the sport I love, but the sheer number of issues with this elimination qualifying format and the process which saw it come to pass, is astounding.

Ultimately, the concept of having drivers removed from the running incrementally is an interesting idea and would have certainly warranted a discussion when first suggested. With frankly absurd ideas such as reverse grids and time ballast being touted, elimination qualifying is comparatively feasible.

However, three weeks before the start of the season, for the F1 Commission to unanimously vote in favour of a change to a qualifying format that was in no way broken, was bizarre to begin with. In addition, such a significant alteration to the regulations surely needed a longer lead time for potential pitfalls to be suitably analysed.

Instead, we had the astonishing scenario where drivers met with Charlie Whiting during pre-season testing to declare their opposition to the change. This was the kind of discussions the GPDA should have been having behind closed doors, when the cameras are put away for the off-season.

Meanwhile, hugely intelligent and experienced race engineers were informing the powers-that-be of the fact that the elimination windows would negatively impact the show, particularly at the end of each qualifying segment.

This was exactly what we saw today, including at the end of Q3. Lewis Hamilton secured pole with just under five minutes remaining and having burnt through their tyre allocation early on, a number of teams were limited to just one run.

It was this kind of Q3 – where drivers sat in the garage rather than attack the track – that was addressed by regulation changes ahead of 2014. Each driver was supplied with an additional set of the option tyre in order to alleviate their rubber restrictions. Today’s Q3 was not only short on laps, therefore signifying a backwards step, but also front-loaded, meaning that the session lacked the ever-exciting crescendo.

While it was acknowledged all along that the format could lead to less exciting action on a Saturday, it was advertised as an expense that would lead to a mixed up grid and therefore, a more interesting Sunday. With the only shock being Daniil Kvyat’s Q1 exit for Red Bull, it is fair to say that the format did not only make for uninspiring viewing, but failed to deliver on its primary goal.

With the sport’s power players agreeing with fans in suggesting that the revised format requires immediate attention, it does at least seem that F1 is prepared to make a swift change. Fortunate, given the scale of the error made.

Today’s qualifying did, however, generate a grid which could lead to an interesting race, despite not featuring headline surprises. Ferrari are poised to prove if they have got what it takes to fight Mercedes for Sunday supremacy this season, lining up behind the Mercedes front-row lock-out. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen will have his sights set on the battle royale ahead, as the Dutchman starts a career best fifth.

F1 needs a spell-binding race tomorrow and the key protagonists are positioned to deliver. As for the qualifying format, lets hope the championship finds a rapid solution. A return to the old knockout system would be the easiest way forward.

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