Honda F1 website

MARCH 10, 2004

Should the F1 format be changed?

There is much debate going on behind the scenes in Formula 1 at the moment over whether or not the qualifying format needs to be changed. There a number of parties involved who are campaigning for immediate action following what was a not very successful debut of the new format in Australia. Contrary to popular belief the decision to change the format does not rest with the FIA as the governing body was not responsible for the change in the first place. The idea of a different qualifying format was a decision made by the Formula 1 team bosses and Bernie Ecclestone. The made recommendations which were accepted by the F1 Commission and by the FIA World Motor Sport Council.

The FIA is currently saying that it does not want any knee-jerk reactions to the fact that the Australian show was not very good. Last year there was similar criticism with the then new qualifying structure but that criticism was far more muted than this year. Now the calls for change are strident and virtually universal. The intention therefore seems to be for the FIA to listen to all concerned - the stakeholders in F1 is the expression that is being used - and then see what the broadcasters are reporting. We hear that some of the European TV channels, already hurt by the time zone problems, found the viewing figure from Australia embarrassingly low.

The desire to change things before Malaysia exists but looks like being frustrated for a few more weeks in which the system will be tried again in Malaysia and in Bahrain. After that there is a three-week break in which the necessary meetings can be held and decisions made. The most likely outcome would be to go back to one of the tried and tested ideas of years gone by. A more adventurous approach would be to try a new idea, such as David Richards's concept of having a short session when are the cars run and set times to establish a running order and then car-by-car qualifying to set the grid.

The fact that the team owners came up with a system which is obviously a disaster (and they are its biggest critics) does beg the question whether or not they are the right people to be making such decisions, given that decision that they make are always the result of the politicking, lobbying and deal-making that goes on between the 10 team bosses and the commercial rights holder in F1.

The good thing in all this is that it shows that the F1 bosses are at least thinking about the fans and listening to opinions rather than assuming that whatever they decide is the right answer.