Pirelli not convinced by qualifying U-turn


Plans to revert to the old (2015) style qualifying format could be yet scuppered, as Pirelli's motorsport boss Paul Hembery isn't convinced the new format was the disaster many claim it to be.

The new format was meant to provide more excitement during a session which traditionally sees teams do as little running as possible in order to save tyres, it was also intended that surprise events during the various phases might impact the grid order and thereby 'spice up' the following day's race. After all, the change in format came at a time Bernie Ecclestone was pushing for reversed grids or at least a system that would see the most successful drivers need to work harder on a Sunday rather than merely starting from the front and heading off into the distance.

However, the new format also fell victim to teams wishing to conserve their tyres, and was further frustrated by drivers being unable to pit for fresh rubber and get out again in time for another run. Furthermore, having established a safe time in the opening sessions, or feeling they couldn't improve further, many drivers simply settled for what they'd done and got out of their cars.

Consequently at the end of Q2 and Q3, the chequered flag was waved to an empty track. For those fans used to a last minute shoot-out it was totally anti-climactic.

The situation was hardly helped by the fact that teams, drivers and even commentators were confused by the new format, whilst fans were left in the dark as the relevant information was not being provided. Indeed, rather than actually watching the 'action', fans were reduced to 'clock watching' and maths as they tried to keep up with a system that sees a driver eliminated every ninety seconds but doesn't actually provide the necessary information.

In the hours after the session Bernie Ecclestone, who had watched it from his London HQ, called on team bosses to meet the following morning and push through a unanimous call for the format to be scrapped and return to the old version in time for Bahrain in two weeks.

Following the meeting, Christian Horner confirmed that approval for the move was unanimous, whilst Toto Wolff said there was not a single voice of dissent, adding that nobody dared.

However, for the move to become official it will have to go the Strategy Group and F1 Commission for unanimous approval, which is where it could run into problems.

Other than representatives of the teams, the FIA and Ecclestone, the F1 Commission includes other interested parties including race promoters, engine manufacturers, fuel suppliers, sponsors and Pirelli.

The Italian tyre manufacturer believes the new format has not been given a fair chance and with a tweak or two could still work.

"We haven't heard all of the arguments," said Hembery, according to Motorsport.com. "There were a number of positives and negatives from qualifying.

"I think Q3 needed improving," he admitted, "as not having cars running was unanimously seen by fans and the viewers as negative. But that could be easily be resolved by going back to last year's Q3 running, so there is no elimination process.

"I think the one thing that did come from qualifying was that it had an impact on the race," he insisted, "which was the original motive as explained to us as F1 Commission members. There were things like stopping maybe the top teams trying to qualify on what would have been the soft tyre here in Q2, which would then have allowed them to start on the soft tyre in the race. Having no elimination, they would probably have gone out on the soft tyre, tried to set a time and then evaluated whether that would be sufficient to get them through. So you have to be careful.

"We sat in one meeting and were given one argument that the change was due to a need to add an extra element to the race strategy," he said, referring to the initial move to introduce the new format. "It delivered that on many levels. If that is no longer required, then we need to hear the arguments."

Interestingly, there is also a voice of dissent from the pitlane, Force India, where deputy team principal Bob Fernley said there should not be a knee-jerk reaction.

"When you are making a decision where the end result was to influence the race, how the hell can you make the decision to abandon it before you have had the race?" he told Motorsport.com. "That was my argument on Sunday, and I still feel that now.

"When you redo something like this, you should not have a knee-jerk reaction. You should let the process go through, and then step back in the calm light of day, pick out what was good and say can we use that? Do we need to tweak a few areas? Did we get something terribly wrong? You can address all of them, you don't have to throw the baby out with the bath water."

Asked if his team, which, along with Sauber, has gone to the European Commission to investigate the way F1 is run, would raise its head above the parapet and block the move to scrap the new format, he admitted: "We would never stand up as a lone voice if it was detrimental for Formula 1. When it comes to what is good for fans and good for F1, that we will never get in the way of.

"But we were all working under a pressure cooker, so it seems a shame to me to throw it all away when you have never evaluated it properly."

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Published: 22/03/2016
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