This week in F1: Qualifying changes again and then back again, drivers take a stance, ultra-soft tyre debut announced and more

Finally the season is back. After the farce of Saturday afternoon, Sunday served up quite the treat with perhaps the best season opener we have seen for a number of years. The new tyre rules that allows the teams to chose their own tyre allocations gave the teams three different tyre compounds to chose from really helped spice things up with a number of different tyre strategies being played out.

Of course, some got it right and some got it wrong. Ferrari threw away a potential race win away due to their tyre calls throughout the race. Perhaps this is a theme that we will se throughout this season. Australian Grand Prix aside, there has still been an awful lot else going on.

Bad news for terrestrial tv

News emerged this week of a new F1 televison deal that will come into action in 2019. Sky Sports will be the only place that viewers in the UK wil be able to get their F1 fix. The deal gives Sky Sports exclusive coverage until 2024. The only race that will be shown on “free-to-air” television will be the British Grand Prix. 

This is bad news for F1 fans across the country. Sky faced backlash from fans when they entered the current agreement with BBC, who have this season been replaced by Channel 4. Sky Sports F1 is currently the only place to watch every session live, with Channel 4 broadcasting a selection of races live, races that aren’t shown live are given extended highlights.

Viewing figures have been on the decline since the Sky/BBC deal came into affect at the start of 2012. With F1 to be off “free-to-air” television in just three seasons, time the viewing figures will continue to fall and decrease the number of new viewers to the sport.

Qualifying changed back and changed again?

It is safe to say that nobody is a fan of the new elimination qualifying format that was introduced last weekend. The new format was designed to make Saturday afternoon’s more of a lottery in the hope of having more mixed grids come raceday. The new format flopped. Everybody was confussed and a little annoyed. 

After an allotted time during each phase of qualifitying the slowet driver was be elimanated. That continued with the slowest driver being eliminated from the session every 90 seconds. On papaer it is a brilliant idea but the execution was anything but, leaving many calling the whole thing off and have us revert back to the old qualifying format. 

Thankfully the voices of reason came forward and it was announced that for the next race in Bahrain, F1 would step back in time and go back to the format that we all know and love, and more importantly the teams and drivers know. There was no reason for the qualifying format to change but the powers that be thought otherwise.

That was all well and good, we’re back to what we know and can look forward to a normal qualifying hour in Bahrain right? No. We’re giving elimination qualifying another chance. Sigh. The two tweets below show just how fast things can change in F1. 

GPDA let their feelings be known 

Fans haven’t been happy with the way that the sport is being run for a number of years now. Us fans know that the sport at the top is a shambles but the drivers have always remained tight lipped on their views until now.

In an open letter released on Wednesday afternoon on behalf of the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers Assosiation) which is signed by former world champions Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button, the drivers have all united for a change in the way inwhich the sport is run.

Will something come of the GPDA’s strong stance on the situation? I highly doubt it. Some people believe even that a potential strike is on the cards, but then again that is also something that is extremely unlikely. This is one that will rumble on for months and maybe years to come. Something really has to be done to secure the future of the sport for generations to come but not at the expense of a strike.

F1 going ultrasoft 

The Monaco Grand Prix will be the first weekend that the ultrasoft compound will be available to use. Monaco has always been one of the circuits that Pirelli bring their softest compounds with this season being no execption. The purple-marked tyre was expected to be debuted at the following race in Canada but has been brought forward.

The teams have this season been given a free range of tyre compounds to use through the race weekend’s this season. The new compound was tested in Abu Dhabi in November and will only be made available to the teams on street circuits. We will not know how many sets of the new compound that each driver will have at their disposal in Monaco until nearer the time of the race.  

Baku will be fast

New tracks enetering F1 is an exciting time for the sport and the fans in that country. The news that F1 is coming to Azerbaijan was met with scepticism by many, including myself, however news this week regarding the new street circuit in Baku feels us with a great deal of excitment. 

F1 track designer Hermann Tilke has come under fire over the last number of years. His circuits are often bland and make for boring races. On paper the circuit does look dull, but thankfully the circuit designer has hailed the track as “the fastest street circuit in the world”.

The circuit will run through the city centre and will be narrow yet fast. From the design it looks as if overtaking could be hard to come by due to the tight and twisty nature of the track. Tilke has predicted that the lap times will be in the 1:41 range but could be faster. The European Grand Prix will take place in June.