While we've never really been big fans of Bernie Ecclestone's leadership of Formula 1 - just when we think that he's already hit the limit of ridiculousness we get news that he's found a way to go even further off the deep end.
You would think that with the anger qualifying in Melbourne generated in the fans, the press, the drivers and even the teams that Bernie would have realized that continuing to mess with qualifying isn't a popular idea. But then again, Bernie has been talking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue - it's been widely reported that he described Melbourne's qualifying as "pretty crap," and then in the days afterward pushing for the new knockout format to remain even in a potentially modified format.
But Bernie continues to show that he's learned absolutely nothing from opening weekend. According to Motorsport, he isn't interested in returning to the qualification system that worked successfully for years, the system that teams, fans and drivers understood; a system that most importantly produced a lot of edge of your seat moments...
Instead, Bernie is now pushing two options, one we've heard of - Time Ballast or Qualifying Penalties which are added automatically to the qualifying time of the race or podium winners of the previous race. The idea is that by forcing these drivers down the grid they would need to fight their way through the grid on race day and provide us all with better racing - see also reverse grids, or last week's podcast where we talked about The Big Book of Top Gear 2009... The reality though is that in Melbourne we also saw first hand how such a strategy would work - because the current aero rules prevent close racing for long stretches and many tracks are extremely difficult to pass, successful drivers find themselves pinned behind slower cars, not because they don't have the skill or speed to pass, but because designing a successful modern F1 car doesn't allow for managing the turbulence generated by other cars on the track.
But what's really more likely to happen is that teams will look at a driver's standings and decide to pull their cars back. Opting for consistent second and third place finishes in order to minimize the time penalty on their qualifying for their next race quite possibly may be more attractive than being forced to take two steps back for every race win. Fans already complain when drivers are told to conserve tires or fuel - imagine the furor when drivers start pulling back so that they avoid a qualifying penalty at their next race...
Arguably the whole purpose for monkeying with qualifying is to produce not just better action on raceday, but also better action on Saturdays as well, which makes Bernie's other proposal so mindblowing - basing grid positions on a vote. Admittedly we don't have any detail on how this proposal would work - but one of the key reasons why Melbourne's qualifying was such a failure is because cars weren't on the track. At first glance - determining grid position based on a vote would appear to eliminate the need for cars on the track on Saturday completely, and using this vote to impact drivers final position on the grid after running on Saturday doesn't sound like a great idea either.
But that gets us back to the headline. Over the last two years its becoming more and more clear that just because something appears to be a monumentally stupid idea isn't a deterrent to Bernie. In fact, the more gimmicky an idea appears to be (assuming it has nothing to do with the internet) the more likely it is now becoming that Bernie will latch on to it.
One of the arguments that has come forward in the last two weeks has been over the management and rule making structure of Formula 1. Control has been taken away from Bernie's FOM and the FIA and instead the team's have the ability to influence the direction of the sport. Many have called for a "benevolent dictator" to step up and take control, because the teams are looking only for an advantage for themselves and aren't thinking about the sport as a whole. This is a role that Bernie held in the past, and arguably he brought the sport great success during that time. But his recent initiatives - the high degradation tires, double points, qualifying revisions, exorbitant event fees, among others show that he's not the right person to pull the sport out of the tailspin it's currently in. If anything, the blame for putting the sport into that tailspin rests largely with Bernie.
It's time for somebody to take control of F1 - but not Bernie Ecclestone.