LEWIS Hamilton claimed the 50th pole of his career in Melbourne, but his achievement was overshadowed by the disastrous debut of Formula One’s controversial qualifying format.
Hamilton will start the season-opening race ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.
It is embarrassing, we have changed the rules in an erratic way, which we shouldn’t have done
But qualifying was mired in farce and the new format – despite getting the tick of approval by Formula One’s hierarchy only last month – is now facing the axe before the sport visits Bahrain in a fortnight’s time.
The biggest objection came with the lack of on-track action. With six minutes of the final of three timed sessions remaining, Ferrari decided to save their tyres for the race. And after seeing their rivals remain in their garage, Mercedes decided to follow suit.
Hamilton and Rosberg were called back into the pits, and with more than three minutes left of qualifying, millions of fans across the world were left staring at an empty track.
“There is a will to change things in time for Bahrain,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, whose media briefing was interrupted by a call from the sport’s chief executive Bernie Ecclestone. “No one tried to really damage the spectacle in qualifying on purpose.
“I think if all the teams come together and say this is their unanimous opinion then we have a pretty good chance of getting a change through. We need to do it very quickly. To either reinstall the old format or a new format in Bahrain.”
Furious fans expressed their anger at the revamped system on social media, while spectators at Melbourne’s Albert Park track will have left feeling rather short-changed.
Ecclestone, who objected the new format, was quick to give his view. “Pretty crap,” he told Autosport, with the sport’s power-brokers expected to discuss the system today.
“It is pretty embarrassing,” Wolff added. “We are a global sport, millions of spectators, and we have changed the rules in an erratic way, which we shouldn’t have done.”
The new format remains split into three mini-sessions with the slowest driver eliminated at 90-second intervals. While Q1, the opening session, proved to be frantic, Q2 was somewhat of a dreary sequel. It was a theme which continued into the final timed session and one the strategists had feared.
The embarrassing crescendo came in Q3 where Vettel opted to call it a day with six minutes remaining. He even had time to change out of his overalls for the post-qualifying press conference.
“I don’t see why everybody’s surprised now,” he said. “We all said what’s going to happen. I don’t feel it is the right way to go. There are no cars to watch.”
Hamilton, who has topped every practice and qualifying session, was rather more sympathetic.
“There is no point in going back to what we had,” Hamilton said. “We made a change because it wasn’t good enough so we should take a step back, learn from this, and see if there is something else we can do for the next race.”