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Continued uncertainty regarding new qualifying format

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20/06/2004

Despite Bernie Ecclestone's insistence that the qualifying format should be changed, and in spite of the F1 Supremo coming up with an alternative, there is continued unease as to the format being introduced at Silverstone.

"The teams are constantly positioned as being solely and exclusively responsible for change and certainly this is one of those times," said McLaren boss, Ron Dennis. "We have all contributed to trying to make the spectacle of qualifying better and there is no question if you look at the current situation that we have failed so far to make Formula One better than it has been in the past in respect to qualifying.

"I think everyone started simply from what was the best it has ever been and everyone said the best it has ever been was when all the cars were on the circuit at the same time and the drivers were effectively faced with getting a clear lap in a 12-lap window. Everyone agreed with that perception but then immediately pointed out that that meant that in a one-hour session everybody would be very slow to go out and that would mean 20 minutes of nothing happening.

"That was an issue that was addressed by splitting the practice sessions and then things tacked on as teams either were successful in politicking in some sort of advantage into the regulation or whether an interested party was able to politick something in and where we have ended up is definitely a different format.

"Whether it is better or not, I think time will tell," said the Englishman. "But if it isn't I don't think any team is not prepared to change it yet again, but we have got to run probably the rest of the year in this format or stay as we are and that is still a possibility, I think.

"I think we have consistently proven, as teams, that we should not be setting the agenda here and I don't think we are actually doing things in a very rational way," added BAR's David Richards. "In most businesses you consult the customer and you actually do your market research and you say 'here are the options' and I think the way to have gone about it personally would have been to come up with three or four options, whatever it might be, and go out there and see what the television audience and production teams want to make the job work for them because we are constantly under criticism of that.

"But on this particular occasion I think, at the end of the day, it was a request from Bernie, who said 'this is what I would like to do' and he put the things forward. And quite frankly he is accountable for the television audience, he is accountable for people coming through the turnstiles, he is the promoter of the championship so I am afraid he got my vote on that basis.

"I don't think it is the right thing to do, however."

"My concern was purely selfish," admitted Eddie Jordan, "in that I was able to sell an element of time to my sponsors for not just terrestrial television but for global feed and I felt that was being taken away or could be taken away because, whether we like it or not, there is not a person who is responsible for the production of television who would be shot by his editor if he doesn't follow a red car. And on that basis it will go down to the next best one, whoever is likely to be there, and if we are in England he would follow an English driver, if we are in Germany he would follow a German driver and so be it all the way through and I can't have that pot-luck effect when I am doing proper sheets and spreadsheets about potential income and value of media because anyone who thinks that a sponsor does not have a media value on every particular second that has an appearance of your car is crazy.

"Those days of someone coming around and saying 'hey, I am a chief executive. I'd like to have my sticker on your car and we're going to have some fun and we'll go racing and we'll see how it goes' are gone because you have proper marketing people who are all clamouring for other aspects of commercial viability and Formula One is no different.

"You have to stand up and if the figures meet the criteria you get the sponsorship, if they don't, you won't.

"So, a little bit selfishly, I was considering what Jordan's prospect was. And, from that point of view, I probably agree with Ron that if you were to take the best scenario so, thinking of the sport for once, I think it is a better solution, but it has deprived Jordan of television income that I am disappointed about.

"Two years ago it was recognised that the share of voice that the small teams were getting was minimal and the whole idea of single lap qualifying was to give us all equal opportunity on the qualifying single lap," said Minardi's Paul Stoddart.

"Now, that was achieved last year and I felt that we had something that worked. All year we had no complaints about this system, we had something to give the media on Friday, Friday meant something because we had a provisional pole position, we had a Saturday single lap that people didn't complain about. But pulling the two together was a chronic mistake and we have to take into account the fact that we probably shouldn't have changed what we had last year.

"Both championships went to the wire," the Australian continued. "That wouldn't have happened this year but I don't think we would be having the complaints that we have had this year had we left the format alone. Famous words: If it isn't broke, don't fix it. And as for this new format, which as David said is Bernie's suggestion, I think it has got to be said that we will have to wait and see. But certainly the small teams are massive losers in this and our television share of voice is only really in qualifying - unless we are being lapped - and that has just been taken away. It makes it very tough."

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