Well it was either going to be the best thing since sliced bread or a right old mess. It looks as if the new qualifying format has already proved to be the latter. Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix may have been totally different but we still ended up with a grid that has Lewis Hamilton on pole and teammate Nico Rosberg right behind him. The manner in which that was decided was a big disappointment though.
The new qualifying system was a bit like WWE’s Royal Rumble. In that you get a new wrestler come into the ring every 90 seconds. In F1 qualifying we now get a set time of racing and then every minute and a half the slowest driver gets eliminated. Sir Jackie Stewart had said of the new system “we either bite it or kiss it”, I’m thinking the teeth will be out in force now.
The hopes that this might lead to some exciting racing didn’t materialise though. In fact, for the last five minutes of qualifying there wasn’t a car to be seen on the track. It was a like a quiz show where the winner had been announced way before what was supposed to be a nail-biting climax.
As qualifying progressed, Ferrari realized that they were falling behind the times set by the two Mercedes. Why carry on then? They didn’t and decided to rest their tyres.
For the third year in a row Hamilton took pole position for the Australian Grand Prix with a lap 0.36 seconds faster than Rosberg and there looks to be a bit more time that he can take off.
Reaction to the new qualifying format was pretty fierce. Qualifying should be entertaining for the fans not just a way to produce the line-up for the grid. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner reckons F1 should “apologise to the fans” as “we have not really put on a show.”
His view was that with five minutes to go in qualifying, the absence of the two Ferrari’s in fast cars “is wrong” and he has a point. Vettel will start the race in third place on the grid and Raikkonen in fourth. They’ll certainly be challenging though as early on in the final session they were both ahead of Rosberg.
Rosberg was also critical of the new qualifying format believing “It’s good to try something but it hasn’t worked – so we should go back.” Vettel also slammed the new format but said he wasn’t surprised it didn’t work. “It is a bit busier at the beginning of the session but for no reason. People want to see us pushing to the limit at the end of the session. It is the wrong way to go and that’s what we said.”
The fascination in the qualifying system is more on the slower drivers than the fastest. If you’re the next in line to be eliminated, then the pressure is on to avoid being next out. But when it comes to the race itself will we be focussing on who gets last place or wins the Grand Prix? The other problem is that just as Ferrari did, if you think getting out of the elimination position isn’t going to be possible, you just give up and rest your tyres for the race itself.
As for the rest of the teams, qualifying was a big hit for Toro Rosso. Max Verstappen finished fifth and Carlos Sainz seventh. Top Williams driver was Felipe Massa who’ll start sixth on the grid.
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) starts in eighth but teammate Daniil Kyvat is down in 18th place The two Force India drivers Perez and Hulkenburg complete the top ten.
Another team happy will be McLaren with Alonso in 12th and Button 13th. That’s a lot better than they started last season when the two McLaren’s filled 17th and 18th place in qualifying.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. Will F1 bosses just accept it doesn’t work and ditch it or try and tweak the new format in some way.
So where does this leave us for the first race of the season? Well it looks as if only technical problems might stop Lewis Hamilton winning the Australian Grand Prix for the second year in a row and the third time in his career.
We’re all hoping that Ferrari will further close the gap on Mercedes but Hamilton had a big gap over Vettel. The defending world champion was full of praise for the Mercedes team. He may not have loved the testing sessions but he said today “I enjoyed driving the car in qualifying, got the set-up just right.” Lewis hailed some of his “sexy laps” and claimed with “beautiful rhythm” he felt like the singer James Brown.
Sebastian Vettel is in no way giving up though and said Ferrari stlll have “high hopes for tomorrow and it is a long year.”
It is indeed but the last thing F1 bosses need is a qualifying system that proves an instant flop followed by a Mercedes procession in the race itself. Let’s hope we get a good race that sets us up for a great season ahead. Enjoy the race everyone, especially those of you having an early Sunday morning to watch the race live.