F1 2016: Nevermind the Drawing Board

Pastor Maldonado crashes again

Who knew Pastor Maldonado crashed the Australian Grand Prix (again)? At least according to GrandPrix.com he did.

This was the first Formula One race of 2016. I’ll get to the race a little later. There’s no point in sugarcoating what I think of the new qualifying format: It was terrible.

Instead of the previous format of having three “knockout” sessions where a set number of the slowest drivers are eliminated after each of the first two sessions, F1 has kept the three session knockout format but made a confusing change where after a certain number of minutes into each session, the slowest driver gets knocked out every 90 seconds. This gets repeated until the requisite number of drivers is eliminated. The idea behind this was that somehow it would improve the show and mix up the field. It did neither.

F1 should immediately scrap the format and revert to the previous one. Don’t go back to the drawing board, don’t try to make more changes. Just drop it and we’ll all pretend it never happened. Of all the problems that F1 had leading up to this year, qualifying was not one of them. But now it is.

First, instead of having suspense on track until the very end of each session leaving the audience wondering who would make it to the next round, we now have had zero cars on track beginning a few minutes from the end of each session as teams and drivers realized it was futile to try to get fuel and fresh tires and get back out on track.

The action has basically shifted forward by roughly the amount it takes to complete two slow laps and a pit stop. This is because to make the tire stop a driver has to do an “in” lap to get back to the pits after a qualifying run, make the pit stop, and then do an “out” lap to warm everything up before attempting his next flying lap. So if he doesn’t have the time to do those two laps and a pit stop, it’s a moot point to try to get back out. Hence, no cars on track at the end of each session.

Not only that but drivers get knocked out during the session right as the clock ticks down those 90 second increments even if they are on a hot lap. At least with the final countdown at the end of each session, then as now, if a driver is on a hot lap that lap time would count once he crossed the finish line, provided he started the lap before the clock counted down to 0:00.

Next, there were no incidents on track. What happens when there is a crash and a session is red flagged or a safety car has to be deployed during the knockout period. What then? It isn’t going to get less confusing for spectators. That much is certain.

And as for mixing up the grid? Well you have two Mercedes on the front row, in the same order as last year, by a significant amount of time (about 0.5 seconds) ahead of a Ferrari second row. So we arrived at the same outcome in a more confusing yet less entertaining manner.

The only interesting aspects of qualifying in Australia was when newcomer Jolyon Palmer outqualified his highly rated teammate Kevin Magnussen, teen sensation Max Verstappen qualified fifth behind only the Mercedes and Ferraris, and the Haas F1 team made its F1 debut.

The Race

Fortunately, the race was much better than qualifying. By the time it started word had gotten out that the new qualifying would be scrapped. Let’s hope everyone follows through with that. It would be hard to imagine such a poor idea to continue.

The Mercedes made poor starts and the Ferraris made great getaways. I won’t belabor the details. Suffice it to say the race was decently interesting, made more so by a raft of young guns and newbies such as Max Verstappen, who was a little impetuous in today’s showing and came up short of his potential by day’s end, Carlos Sainz, Jolyon Palmer, who did well on his F1 debut, and Pascal Wehrlein.

Which is more than can be said about Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez. Both were fortunately unhurt following a massive crash – Alonso looked like a magician clamoring out of what was left of his unrecognizable car. The race was red flagged to clear the track of debris.

The podium was a familiar sight with Nico Rosberg taking the win, followed by teammate Lewis Hamilton, and Sebastian Vettel, the sole remaining Ferrari driver. The Haas F1 team had a solid sixth place finish on their debut, helping to offset Gutierrez’s DNF.

Let’s hope this race is a preview of the quality of the rest of the season. And that we can immediately revert to the qualifying format of seasons past.

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