BARCELONA: Formula One qualifying is to undergo a major overhaul this season after F1 bosses unanimously agreed to change to a knockout format.
The changes are expected to be passed in time for the first race of the season in Australia on March 20 in a bid to introduce more excitement after two years of domination by Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
“Upon the recommendation of the Strategy Group, the F1 Commission passed a series of new measures designed to deliver a faster, more spectacular FIA Formula One World Championship,” the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile said in a statement.
Hamilton, though, doesn’t believe his supremacy is likely to be affected much by the change.
“I don’t really feel like it is going to change much,” said the Englishman. “I hope it is a surprise for us all, I hope it does generate excitement.”
“I think performance will be the same, it just puts more focus on making sure you get your laps in and keeping people out on the track at all times, so hopefully it is good for the spectator,” he added.
The meeting of the Strategy Group and F1 commission in Geneva on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) was expected to see more technical changes to help increase the speed of the cars for the 2017 season.
However, the deadline for agreement on changes to the regulations has been delayed until April 30.
The proposal will see qualifying split into three segments.
The first segment will last 16 minutes and after seven minutes the slowest driver will take no further part in the session. Every 90 seconds thereafter, the slowest driver will be knocked out until there are only 15 drivers remaining.
A 15-minute second segment follows a similar pattern with the slowest driver eliminated after six minutes and then a further driver knocked out at 90-second intervals.
The final segment will last 14 minutes with knockouts beginning after five minutes until the two final drivers are left to fight it out for pole position.
“I don’t think it is going to improve qualifying itself, in fact I think qualifying might not be as exciting,” said Williams Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds. “It might not build up to that final crescendo, but what it has a good chance of doing is improving the race because it is quite a difficult situation.
”“I think all of us are going to make mistakes, particularly early on and that means there will be occasions when cars are out of position, so we will see some of the quicker cars further back which we all know has given us some great races,” he added.
However, McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier was less enthusiastic about the change.
“It is extra pressure for everybody, for the drivers and the team,” he said.
“It is true that we have to be very coordinated. We can’t release the car or ask the drivers to do the lap time at the wrong time anymore, we have no flexibility,” Boullier added.
The change will require ratification by the World Motor Sport Council, which next meets on March 4.
Extra safety measures to protect drivers are also set to be introduced from the 2017 season with a shield around the cockpit to prevent injuries from flying debris.