Paddock divided over ’musical chairs’ qualifying
"It could create a bit more randomness"
Paddock opinion at the Barcelona test has been divided in two, after the FIA confirmed that the F1 Commission in Geneva "unanimously" approved a new qualifying format.
Mercedes team chairman Niki Lauda had been the first to hail the move to revamp the current ’knockout’ format by eliminating a slowest car every 90 seconds.
Red Bull’s Christian Horner agrees.
"It could create a bit more randomness for the grid on Sunday, without artificially inverting grids," he said.
And Nico Rosberg said: "I think it’s always good when we question our sport and try to bring fresh aspects into it."
Actually reversing the grids - earlier slammed as a "disaster" by Romain Grosjean - had been F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone’s real preference, with the 90-second knockout idea apparently a close second choice and compromise.
It means that, having slammed the state of today’s F1 just days ago, the 85-year-old is now much more upbeat about the future.
"I think now I’d be a bit more confident that we are going to see some good racing," Ecclestone is quoted by British newspapers including the Telegraph.
"I wasn’t talking down the sport at all, quite the opposite. I was trying to sort of explain that unless we did something, that’s the way we’d be going."
Some said qualifying will now be like ’musical chairs’, in an action-packed scramble to avoid being the next to be left with a low grid position.
"It’s a strange idea," said Renault rookie Jolyon Palmer, "as I don’t see it will make a massive difference." But Daniil Kvyat had the opposite view, admitting that at first sight he thought qualifying will now be "a mess".
Kimi Raikkonen, testing the new Ferrari for the first time on Wednesday, did not want to comment at all, remarking: "Let’s wait to see if it happens."
But Williams’ Felipe Massa said: "I have not given it a lot of thought, but the intention is clear: to produce some chaos."
His boss Pat Symonds agrees with that assessment.
"I don’t think it’s going to improve qualifying itself and in fact there is a danger qualifying might not be as exciting. What it has a good chance of doing is improving the race.
"We will see some of the quicker cars a bit further back and we all know that has given us some great races in the past," he added.
Nico Hulkenberg is alarmed at the timing of the qualifying shakeup.
"It was a huge surprise that, three weeks before the start of the season, the qualifying format is rewritten," said the Force India driver and reigning Le Mans winner.
Symonds agrees: "We made our tyre choices for the first races on the basis of the old qualifying, so I’m sure if we had known about this, we might have chosen something else.
"But we’re all in the same boat," he added.
Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz is also in two minds.
"On one hand, it looks good because it will be spectacular, but it might be a bit hard to explain what is going on. But as long as it is spectacular, people will like it," he said.
However, it is clear from the reaction on social media that the fans are very much divided over whether ’musical chairs’ qualifying is a good idea.
"We should always try to be better," argues Haas team boss Gunther Steiner. "Sometimes you are wrong but it can be corrected.
"But I think the fans will like the new format."
Jos Verstappen, a former F1 driver and the father of Toro Rosso teen sensation Max, is also trying to keep an open mind.
"I think the old system was not too bad. I found it pretty exciting, especially the last two minutes of the session," he told verstappen.nl.
"But I think they want to spread the excitement of those last two minutes. It’s easy to say ’I don’t like it’, but maybe it’s something great," said Jos.
"What people want to see is racing," Verstappen added. "They don’t want to know who is going to win in advance, and that is now the case."