Thursday, March 11, 2004
Teams unhappy with qualifying format
By Alan Baldwin
LONDON -- It would be an understatement
to say that Formula One's new qualifying format flopped last
Longer than many feature films, but rather less
entertaining, the marathon Saturday session was savaged by the
critics at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
'Rubbish', 'stupid' and 'boring' were just some of the words
Niki Lauda, the three-time world champion and former Jaguar
team boss, did not beat about the bush when asked what he
thought about it.
"It is the worst thing I have ever seen," the Austrian said.
"I do not understand how a sport like this with such an audience
can make a mistake like this.
"Last year even with just one lap on a Saturday it was less
boring ... they should at least bring it back to what it was
last year and they must do this before the next race."
It was not hard to find others muttering similar opinions,
Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone included.
Supporters were about as rare as a lapped Ferrari, or a
competitive McLaren for that matter, in what passed for a race
"It's rubbish," said Renault boss Flavio Briatore. "We have
made a mistake and I don't quite know how we have done it. If it
is stupid for us then it is stupid for the spectators. It needs
to be changed."
The new format sees each driver do a lap on his own in two
back-to-back sessions, with the first part determining the
running order for the second.
In Australia that meant qualifying lasted for an hour and 52
minutes -- longer than Ferrari's Michael Schumacher took to win
the race -- with many drivers playing safe on their first lap
knowing that only the second run really mattered.
"I didn't find it boring because I was too busy trying to
understand what was going on," joked BMW motorsport director
Mario Theissen. "I am not sure if the TV spectator really
The clamor for change could be answered immediately, if all
the team bosses agree, but first they have to agree on a
solution and that could prove tricky.
The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA), who
introduced a raft of largely well-received changes last year,
have already ruled out a quick fix while absolving themselves of
"Just to be clear, this (the qualifying format) was
something that the team principals discussed at length in their
own meetings and came to us and said this is what we think,"
added a spokesman.
While officials seek to gain a consensus, the options are
limited because Formula One must stick with a single lap format
of some sort as cars have to qualify in race trim.
Friday may have become merely a practice day but some lesser
teams have now factored in a third car with contractual
obligations to those drivers involved.
Others have guaranteed sponsors a certain amount of
television air time on Saturday and there are also technical
"It's difficult to make snap changes because everybody's
designed their cars now for a certain fuel capacity and a
certain parc ferme rule," said Ferrari technical director Ross
Brawn. "If you go and change it all again, you throw that out of
Formula One qualifying has had several guises in the past,
ranging from average times over two days to a one-hour
free-for-all on Saturdays.
If going back to last season's format of an hour on Friday
and Saturday is too difficult, then there are alternatives.
One, raised by BAR boss David Richards, would be for drivers
to have a half-hour free-for-all to decide the running order in
a single-lap qualifying session that follows immediately
That would avoid boring the pants off the crowd while also
reducing the risk of a session ending in semi-darkness on a wet
afternoon at Spa in Belgium, the longest circuit.
Twilight qualifying? Now that would be different.