Why is FOTA worrying about qualifying when F1 faces far greater problems?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Would FOTA\'s new qualifying system disadvantage drivers like Jarno Trulli?
Would FOTA's new qualifying system disadvantage drivers like Jarno Trulli?

Fiddling while Rome burns. Re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic. There are plenty of cliches to be thrown at FOTA’s plans to radically overhaul qualifying yet again.

Why is FOTA trying to change a system that has already been tweaked eight times in the past five years? Its not as if there aren’t more serious problems afflicting F1 at present.

Another Saturday revolution

FOTA has proposed to turn qualifying into a session not unlike the old TOCA Shootout, where cars are eliminated in turn lap by lap. Every car would start the session on track, and one would be eliminated on each lap depending who had set the slowest time.

This would continue until only six cars were left. They would then set individual laps on identical fuel loads to determine their starting order. Got all that?

This would amount to a complete re-thinking of qualifying. Grid position for most drivers would no longer be a question of who can drive the quickest individual lap, but who can consistently lap as quickly as possible. Bad news for F1’s qualifying specialists like Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli.

It would at least resolve the only real problem with qualifying at present, which is that the top ten drivers’ starting positions are largely dictated by fuel load, making it impossible to judge on Saturday whether the guy on pole position drove a terrific lap or merely qualified on fumes. (As Clive discusses here).

But if the teams can agree to such a drastic overhaul of qualifying, could they not just as easily agree to amend the present system so that Q3 takes place with the cars using low fuel? That’s what I’d like to see.

Which teams are behind the idea?

According to Autosport:

FOTA will meet on December 4th and if the proposed format is agreed upon by all teams, it is expected to be submitted to the FIA for approval.

Dieter Rencken explains voting precedure in FOTA meetings (Sub. req.):

The [FOTA] teams have settled on a majority of 19% more than the minimum called for by Mosley. An important proviso was that the 70% would apply to new discussion points only, not existing business, which would require unanimity.

Assuming the proposal does not have the support of all the teams at present, which are most likely to support it? Presumably those whose cars tend to have better relative performance in races than in qualifying, which suggests the likes of Ferrari rather than McLaren.

Will the FIA even listen if all the teams did agree on it? When FOTA suggested banning refuelling during races (a much better idea) Max Mosley refused to discuss changes to ‘the show’.

Missing the point

Is this the most important thing FOTA will be discussing in its December 4th meeting? Surely not.

The full consequences of the global financial crisis are beginning to be felt. Rafts of F1 sponsors are facing falling profits, others like ING and RBS are being propped up with public money.

The Formula 1 calendar is in an increasingly parlous state. The vital North American market will have zero representation on the 2009 F1 schedule with Indianapolis and Montreal lost in the past two years. Even China is now saying Bernie Ecclestone’s race hosting fees are too dear.

France, birthplace of Grand Prix racing, is gone next year, and Britain will be too in 2010 unless Donington Park’s owners can conjure $100m out of we know not where.

Meanwhile F1’s owners have to pay off $2.4bn in debt within five years and last year only paid back $95m.

Faced with this, when FOTA assembles discuss qualifying, can it not simply agree to ditch the race fuel requirement in Q3, and then get onto more important business?