The Formula 1 Season got off to a terrible start on Saturday in Melbourne, with the majority of Q3 players putting in a bank lap (a time that registers their participation in the session) and then simply returning their cars to garage in the knowledge that the two Mercedes cars would be unbeatable.
The new format for Qualifying consists of rolling knockouts: in Q1 there is a 7 minute opening time where all 22 cars can post a lap time. At the 7 minute mark a 90 second clock begins counting down, and if you’re the slowest car at the end of that 90 seconds you’re knocked out, and the 90 seconds begins again, knocking out 7 drivers by the end of Q1.
This system repeats in the following qualifying sessions. Or at least it was supposed to. Whether the teams were sending a strong message to Formula One Management about their feelings on the format, or that it’s simply an inherently flawed system that is too easily gamed by the bigger teams, one thing is clear – this format should not be used again.(Editor’s note: It won’t be.
Paying fans and viewers would’ve been mortified at the distinct lack of action as the stars they’d come to see calmly returned the cars to the pits, climbed out and reported to the weighing station before Q3 had even finished. No doubt many of the commentators would’ve also been very displeased. The average four day ticket for Albert Park can range anywhere from $300-500 for a good seat, and I can guarantee that many ticket holders would rightly feel ripped off.
The really bizarre aspect of this is that there wasn’t much wrong with the old qualifying format. All 22 cars could participate in Q1, at the end of which the six slowest were eliminated, then another six in Q2 before the top 10 battled it out in Q3, which nearly always ran down to the wire and quite often produced surprise grid results after the chequered flag had fallen.
There is still a strong chance that the actual race can be a very dramatic and engrossing spectacle, but any half decent motorsport fan knows that Qualifying is part of the excitement that leads up to the race proper.
Just not with this format.