UPDATE: This story has been updated. See below.
Immediately after Formula One qualifying was over in Melbourne last Sunday, the consensus up and down the pit lane was that the new “musical chairs” qualifying format was an unmitigated disaster that brought the sport into disrepute. On Sunday morning, before the Australian grand prix began, all 11 team bosses voted to discard the new qualifying rules and revert to the the format used the last two seasons instead.
The reason why so many people were disgusted by the new rules was that instead of making qualifying more exciting, it resulted in no cars being on track for the last three minutes of final qualifying. All the muckety mucks and big wigs claimed to be shocked by this, but the drivers had been warning for weeks that the new rules were a disaster waiting to happen.
But in Formula One, the lunatics are well and truly in charge of the asylum. Bernie Ecclestone is having a thinly veiled spat with FIA president Jean Todt, who he accuses of being a weak and feckless leader. Ecclestone’s criticisms may not be entirely without merit. Since his election several years ago, Todt has taken very much of a “hands off” approach to Formula One. As a result, the sport has exhibited more “sideways waffling” than the world has seen at any time since the Nixon Administration.
If we thought the vote of the team principles settled anything, we were wrong. Before any changes could become official, they had to be sanctioned by the F1 Commission. The commission includes race promoters and major sponsors. In a fax vote this week, it failed to approve the change. As a result, qualifying in Bahrain next week will be the same as it was in Australia.
A report from GrandPrix.com says Ecclestone told Germany’s Auto Bild Motorsport this week, “We have not acted rashly so the format remains unchanged, at least for the next race in Bahrain. After that we can look again at what makes sense.”
Many fans, however, are outraged that their wishes and those of the team bosses have been overruled. 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell declared on Twitter: “I wonder why the rule makers of any sport don’t consult the fans for their suggestions.” An unnamed team boss went further, predicting a repeat of the Melbourne backlash. “Now we will still be screaming bloody murder in Bahrain,” he was quoted by Auto Bild. “Regarding this decision, one can only shake your head,” the newspaper editorialized.
Many fans are not just shaking their heads. They are shaking their fists too, as insanity seems to be the sport’s prevailing modus operandi these days. A few more race weekends of cars staying in the garage instead of being out on track during qualifying may convince more fans than ever to look elsewhere for their motorsports fix — like World Endurance Cup or IndyCar. Some may go so far as to watch NASCAR instead!
Photo credit: Roderick Eime via Flickr/Creative Commons
UPDATE: According to Motorsport.com, McLaren and Red Bull were instrumental in the decision to leave qualifying the way it was in Australia. Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA wanted to continue using the “musical chairs” format in Q1 and Q2, but revert to the prior arrangement in Q3. McLaren and Red Bull objected to that proposal, arguing the format should go back to last year’s rules for all three qualifying sessions.
Since unanimity was required and since McLaren and Red Bull refused to agree to the modification proposed by Ecclestone and the FIA, no change was permitted and the much despised new procedure will be with us for at least one more race. It is possible now that the dispute won’t be resolved until the mid-season break in August.