Australian Grand Prix qualifying: Bernie Ecclestone labels new system 'pretty crap' as F1 'should apologise to fans'

The track was empty for the final four minutes of the session as drivers chose to save their tyres rather than go for pole

Jack de Menezes
Saturday 19 March 2016 11:24
Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone
Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone described the new qualifying format introduced for the 2016 season as “pretty crap” after watching the so-called shootout for the Australian Grand Prix on television, with the first major session of the year descending into chaos.

Not only did Lewis Hamilton continue his relentless grip on Saturday qualifying as he recorded his 50th career pole position, fans were left incredibly frustrated as the closing minutes of the session saw the 10 remaining drivers return to the pits and refuse to go for one last shot at pole in order to save their tyres.

For those watching on TV, the countdown clock that was promised in order to keep fans updated with who was on the cusp of elimination failed to display until the first three drivers were knocked out.

It wasn’t all bad, as Q1 provided an early rush from all 22 drivers to try and get a good lap under their belts before the 90-second elimination period began, but once the dust settled and Q2 began, the remaining 16 drivers decided that putting in an improved lap time would be a tough ask and decided against taking to the track.

The tipping point came in Q3, when all 10 drivers returned to the pits with more than four minutes left on the clock, leaving fans disgruntled, angry and simply bored of the unnecessary changes.

Ecclestone, who spoke to Autosport immediately after the session, was very critical of the format, and admitted that changes could be brought in for the second round of the season in Bahrain next month.

"I watched it, but I have to say I wasn't enthusiastic about it from day one," said Ecclestone.

"It was pretty crap. But this is what we've got, until we can change it.

"The only thing about this [format] is that the quick guys could have run off the road, or done anything a little bit silly, and then you would get a mixed-up grid, which is what we wanted.

"It just happens that Mercedes are still very, very good."

However, Ecclestone did add that simply reverting to the old system would result in the same outcome of an all-Mercedes front row, and the 85-year-old is determined to bring back the entertainment factor that made the sport the pinnacle of motorsport some time ago.

"If we go back to the old system, I tell you what would happen: Mercedes would be first and second," Ecclestone said. "Pretty simple.

"What I don't want to see is where you and I could predict how the grid is going to be for the start of a race, and how that race is going to finish.

"You and I could sell everything we've got and put our money on Hamilton winning. It's not what the public want.

"If you are a fan and you are on the way to a race we should be discussing whether or not Hamilton has to push, whether the Ferraris are quick, or maybe somebody else comes through, but they can't do that anymore.

"That's what the problem is."

Ecclestone wasn’t the only person to criticise the new changes, as Mercedes boss Toto Wolff labelled it “pretty rubbish” and his Red Bull counterpart Christian Hornersaid that F1 “should apologise to its fans”.

If changes are to be made to the new qualifying system, then they will need to be in place by 2 April in order for them to take effect for the Bahrain Grand Prix, otherwise fans may have to wait until the third round of the season in China on the weekend of 15-17 April before seeing a competitive Saturday session.

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