Drivers and teams slammed Formula One’s new qualifying system and fans walked out on the anti-climactic finish as reigning champion Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position on Saturday for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Hamilton’s time of 1 minute, 23.837 at the Albert Park circuit was three-tenths of a second faster than Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, with third and fourth place filled by the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
The new qualifying format of rolling eliminations every 90 seconds failed to produce an intended shake-up in the grid order, and in the third and final qualifying session, many drivers chose to save tires for the race rather than try to better the times of the cars ahead of them.
The leading drivers were out of their cars and fans were streaming out with minutes still remaining in the session.
No sooner had the session ended than Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said the new format was “rubbish” and Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said there should be an apology to fans.
The first session of qualifying was frantic, with all cars on the track trying to set a time as the clock ticked down toward the eliminations, and some teams made bad miscalculations, sending drivers out too late to be able to even start a lap.
However, that breathless start gave way to a dull finish, as driver after driver accepted elimination without even bothering to go out onto the track, deciding it was better to save tires than make an unrealistic attempt to better the cars ahead of them.
There were no cars on the track in the final three minutes and fans were already streaming out of the stands.
The new format was adopted at the last moment and against the advice of many teams and drivers who predicted such an anti-climactic finish.
“For the fans in the grandstand, it’s not the right way,” Vettel said. “We don’t need the criticism now, because we’ve had the criticism already.
“We need to be sensible and try to do things the right way.”
Hamilton was a little more generous toward F1’s rule makers, but not much.
“We tried something new, and its trial and error,” Hamilton said. “That’s what they tried today, even if we told them it was the wrong way.
“It’s just wrong when the clock is ticking and there is no one on the track.”
Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. qualified fifth and seventh, either side of Williams driver Felipe Massa.
Local favorite Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull qualified eighth, with the Force India pair of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg completing the top 10.