F1 greenlights new qualifying process
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Formula One gave the go-ahead Friday to a new qualifying system in which drivers will be eliminated every few minutes, a change strongly opposed by four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel said he spoke for the rest of the F1 drivers when speaking out against the new rule, which was unanimously approved in a meeting between stakeholders last month and ratified Friday at a World Motor Sport Council meeting in Geneva.
The three qualifying periods will remain in place, but instead of having the slowest drivers eliminated at the end of each session, they will be dropped one by one every minute-and-a-half.
Governing body FIA said the system will be ready for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 20.
''It's a little bit chaotic if a couple of weeks before the season you start to reinvent certain rules,'' Vettel said. ''I'm speaking on behalf of the drivers. No driver is (a fan). ''
The first section of qualifying, known as Q1, will run for 16 minutes with the first driver dropped after seven minutes, with the remaining 15 drivers heading into Q2 - which lasts 15 minutes and with the first driver eliminated after six minutes.
Q3 lasts for 14 minutes with the first of the eight remaining drivers eliminated after five minutes until two cars are left for the final minute-and-a-half.
The final elimination in each session occurs at the checkered flag - not when time is up.
Vettel, who also thinks F1 is ''lacking leadership,'' is adamant drivers see absolutely no point in it.
''We don't get what's wrong with the old qualifying and why we have to change it,'' he said. ''I think it's important the sport remains a sport, so that in the end the fastest driver comes out on top. That has been in the DNA of Formula One forever.''
There was talk this week that the initial proposals could even be modified again after F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone expressed reservations over whether it would be ready in time for Melbourne.
However, the plan went through unchanged from the initial proposals.
While the new format raises logistical issues for television companies, drivers are worried fans will be confused.
''I've generally enjoyed the qualifying we had for the last few years, so that's why the changes we've made don't make sense to me right now,'' defending champion Lewis Hamilton said.
Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg sounded alarmed that changes had actually gone through - mirroring the ongoing confusion since Ecclestone's comments in an interview with English newspaper The Daily Mail.
Told by reporters the new format will ready for Melbourne, Rosberg replied: ''Will it? I think it's canceled, no? Now it's back again? You're joking.''
After his laughter subsided, he continued: ''Don't say it's going ahead. We still have two weeks.''
Teams, promoters and FIA are looking at way to make F1 more exciting for fans. Ecclestone said last month that F1 ''is the worst it has ever been,'' and that he ''wouldn't spend money to take (his) family to watch a race.''
But any enhanced excitement needs to be balanced with increased safety measures.
One of the top priorities is to make racing safer after French driver Jules Bianchi died last July from head injuries sustained in a crash at the Japanese GP in October 2014.
This week, Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen tested out a prototype of the new head protection device.
The ''halo'' design works by forming a kind of semi-circular barrier around the head and is the concept most favored as it offers protection against flying debris without completely closing the cockpit.
Although approved in principle, the concept still needs to be ratified by April 30 in time for the 2017 season and FIA still needs to run more tests.
''In principle I agree it doesn't look very nice, it's not a picture we're used to in Formula One,'' Vettel said. ''But it helps increasing the safety and saving lives.''
Hamilton has spoken out against it, saying it looks ugly and that he will not use it he gets the option.
But Rosberg, who has often been at odds with his teammate over the past two seasons, is firmly in favor of it.
''The (head) is the most risky area that still remains for us F1 drivers,'' Rosberg said. ''It is definitely the right thing to get that as soon as possible. From a couple of angles it even looked pretty cool.''