By Ian Ransom
LEWIS Hamilton’s 50th pole at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday was a proud milestone for the champion Briton but the achievement was almost completely overshadowed by scathing criticism of Formula One’s new qualifying format.
Hamilton tore around Albert Park in a searing one minute 23.837 seconds in the third and final session of qualifying, eclipsing the circuit’s previous fastest lap set by Michael Schumacher in 2004.
But the exhilarating drive was almost forgotten as his rivals stayed in their garages rather than chase the mark despite having ample time to make a challenge.
The last five minutes would have been excruciatingly awkward for Formula One management as the clock wound down with no drivers on track and with fans left bemused in the grandstands.
The new format, based on racers being progressively eliminated during the sessions rather than at the end of each, was intended to add excitement but ultimately sapped much of the suspense.
It was only approved two weeks before the race, prompting a round of condemnations from drivers, who liked the previous regime and complained of not being consulted.
Hamilton, his second-placed team mate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s third-placed Sebastian Vettel were all quick to criticise the format, saying race managers had been given adequate warning that it was doomed to fail.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said Formula One owed an apology to fans and that the old qualifying should be reinstated.
“We didn’t put on a great show,” he told the BBC.
“We need to learn from it. The important things is not to stick our heads in the sand, address it properly first.”
Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff was even less diplomatic.
“I’m the first one to say we shouldn’t be speaking bad about things on TV, but I think the new qualifying format is pretty rubbish,” Wolff told Sky Sports.
Media pundits also tore into the format, with Sky Sports analyst Martin Brundle saying it needed to be canned immediately.
“I don’t like it, it’s not acceptable, it’s got to change,” the Briton said.
The sport’s governing body is now faced with the embarrassment of scrapping the format after one race or risk another flop at the second round of the championship in Bahrain and further recrimination.
Hamilton suggested F1 management might want to listen to his team’s engineers.
“All my engineers said that was going to be the case (with qualifying)… and they ignored them,” he told reporters.