Phew, I don’t know about you but the last three days of F1 testing has left my head exhausted trying to deduce the potential pecking order ahead of Melbourne, and throwing the new qualifying system into the ring has added a whole extra dimension to this years pre season! I’m going to start with addressing the new qualifying format because to be honest, I’m not completely sure what to think.
The saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it initially springs to mind. I think qualifying was among the few things in F1 which fans and teams genuinely didn’t have an issue with, so how the powers that be came to a decision to re-jig a perfectly successful qualifying format is quite frankly beyond me. Adding a knockout style element to qualifying seems a little gimmicky to me, and whilst it might be exciting, I think it does little to repair F1’s damaged reputation and cement it’s position at the pinnacle of motorsport. F1 does still remain at the pinnacle, and rightly so, but I think to endear itself to loyal fans who have been avidly following the sport for years it should be returning to a purer, less complicated and messy format, not trying to artificially enhance on track excitement.
F1 isn’t NASCAR. I do enjoy NASCAR don’t get me wrong, but introducing a knockout style qualifying session feels a little NASCAR to me. Maybe it’s the purist in me, but I think if there were going to be any changes (not that any were actually needed) it should have been a return to a single lap shootout. At the end of the day, to me, F1 is about car manufacturers and teams pushing the limits of what is mechanically and aerodynamically possible and there remains nothing purer than a low fuel, ultra/supersoft tyre single lap shootout to decide the starting grid. After all, the teams have designed their cars to go as fast as possible and with the amount of fuel saving required in races it would be nice to see the engineers work put to good use.
I think a single lap shootout would also be a bigger test for the drivers. Whereas now, and with the new system the opportunity remains for a driver to complete another timed lap if he makes a mistake which compromises his overall lap time, a single lap shootout would remove this, ensuring that drivers are really tested and cars really pushed to their limits. F1 is supposed to be home to the greatest drivers in the world, so give them a chance to prove their talent when the stage is all theirs.
That being said, and I did tweet about this earlier today, this knockout qualifying format does sound exciting. I think there is a real possibility that it might introduce at least a little unpredictability into the race weekend, but I also think the idea of two drivers battling against the clock to knock each other out of the session might be a lot more exciting on paper than in real life. So I’m really in two minds about the proposed changes. I’d love to hear what you guys think!
The other thing I want to talk about today is McLaren, because funnily enough, like with the proposed qualifying changes I’m really not sure what to think. Fernando Alonso seems happy enough with the car to publicly state he is happy to race in 2016, but does anyone really think that he would have taken a sabbatical? At the age of 34, Alonso realistically can’t have more than three or four full seasons left in F1 and would he really rather sit at home for one of these seasons instead of racing for at least the occasional points and collecting a hefty paycheck from Honda? Although it’s clear the two time champion hasn’t been the luckiest in terms of switching teams at the right time, he remains one of the most complete drivers on the grid and I struggle to believe he would have left McLaren again (even if this time just for a season) for the second time in eight years.
I think it’s clear for everyone to see that McLaren haven’t yet shown their hand at the Barcelona test, or at least for their sake I hope they haven’t. However, my question is how good can their hand feasibly be? Let’s face it, the Honda engine was diabolical last year and it’s going to take more than three months for Honda to make up the deficit to Mercedes and Ferrari. Whilst I think the McLaren chassis is strong, I also think that they will be fighting around the midfield for at least one more season.
I notice that Fernando Alonso mentioned in an interview earlier that only McLaren Honda are capable of beating Mercedes, and if that’s the case I would love to see what he is smoking. Ferrari stand a very real chance of challenging Mercedes this year, and to suggest McLaren Honda are ahead of Ferrari in any way, shape or form is laughable. The Woking squad seem to be pretty much on top of their reliability issues from last season which does at least represent some progress, I think we can quickly forget just how woeful they were throughout 2015 but as much as I can’t wait for McLaren to return to the front of the grid, I can’t see it happening this year at all.