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MARCH 28, 2003

Ecclestone continues campaign against qualifying

Bernie Ecclestone said he did not like the new qualifying arrangements in Formula 1 as soon as the Australian Grand Prix was over - and he is continuing his campaign to get them changed. Ecclestone wants four half-hour qualifying sessions instead. The problem with this is that if the new qualifying structure is dumped the races will go back to being the same format as before with the fastest driver on the front of the grid, and there is a danger that the whole thing will become as processional as it was in 2002, when the TV viewing figures dropped because spectators were bored of watching Michael Schumacher's Ferrari leading the way.

Ecclestone says that the new format means that drivers do not reach their limit in qualifying as used to be the case and do only one flying lap and so cannot respond to a faster time from another driver.

"There is no fighting," Ecclestone told the Brazilian new agency Agencia Estado. "The excitement of qualifying is gone."

Others argue that we need to wait a few more races to see whether the one-by-one qualifying format produces some more exciting sessions and there is a general feeling in the sport that whatever happens there should be no change before the British GP as the public will only become confused if too many changes are made.

The FIA says it is not planning any major changes to the format this year but Ecclestone is making it clear that he wants more.

"When you go to see the doctor and he gives you a pill and that doesn't heal you, he changes your medication," Ecclestone said. "The new system is not working. We are going to change it."

The change in the qualifying format was voted by the Formula 1 Commission last October and in order to be changed must now go back to the same commission.

While it is possible to make qualifying more interesting, Ecclestone has yet to come up with a suggestion as to how to avoid dull races if uncertainty is removed by allowing teams to do as they please with fuel loads and there is no doubt that this is more important as many more people watch the races than watch qualifying.