MELBOURNE (Reuters) - World champion Lewis Hamilton took pole for Mercedes at Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Saturday but condemnation for the revamped qualifying format was almost as quick as the Briton’s fastest lap.
The new system, based on progressive elimination during the three sessions rather than at the end of them, was intended to instill more excitement but instead proved a monumental flop at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.
Rather than battle to the finish of each session, drivers posted early laps and then were content to return to their garages.
The last few minutes of both the second and final qualifying periods petered out with no drivers on track, sapping the entire process of suspense.
Hamilton, however, will be delighted by the work he did put in that allowed him to celebrate his 50th pole after posting a lap of one minute 25.351 seconds, with second-placed team mate Nico Rosberg nowhere near his time.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen are third and fourth on the grid, having confined themselves to the garage after one flying lap apiece, not bothering to even attempt to catch Hamilton’s time.
The top three qualifiers wasted little time in condemning the format as a “wrong” decision and bad for fans.
“We said at the beginning it wasn’t the right way,” three-time world champion Hamilton told reporters.
Four-times world champion Vettel said: ”We all knew what was going to happen. I didn’t think it was very exciting.
“And in the end for the people in the grandstands, I don’t feel it’s the right way to go.”
Ironically, the new format saw little change in Formula One’s status quo, with no major surprises in the top eight positions.
Max Verstappen will line up fifth for Toro Rosso, with his team mate Carlos Sainz seventh behind Williams’s Felipe Massa.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo will line up eighth on the grid as the first eliminated from Q3. His team mate Daniil Kvyat was among the first seven knocked out of Q1, however, along with both drivers from Manor Racing, Haas and Sauber.
Renault rookie Jolyon Palmer will start 14th behind McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, the Briton sneaking into Q2 after the clock had run down on the initial session with a last flying lap that tipped Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson out.
Recriminations for the qualifying format, which was approved only two weeks before the season opener, continued to fly around the paddock well after the last chequered flag waved with no drivers on track.
“That qualifying didn’t really work for me and we should apologize to the fans here,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told the BBC.
”We didn’t put on a great show.
“We need to learn from it. The important things is not to stick our heads in the sand, address it properly first. I would prefer to go back to the qualifying sessions we had but that is my personal opinion.”
Editing by John O'Brien