Formula One drivers are set for a collision course with the sport’s bosses after Sebastian Vettel branded plans to reverse grids as “bull****”.
F1’s American owners Liberty Media have staged talks with the teams about revamping qualifying in a bid to spice up the show.
Under the new proposal, a reverse-grid race – determined by championship order – would be staged on Saturday. The outcome of which would settle the starting positions for Sunday’s grand prix.
Qualifying, in its current guise, would be scrapped. The concept could be trialled at a number of rounds next year, with the aim to introduce it permanently from 2021.
Charles Leclerc secured a hat-trick of pole positions to put his Ferrari at the front of grid for Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix.
The sport’s man of the moment continued his dazzling form under the thousands of bulbs that light up the Marina Bay Street Circuit to see off Lewis Hamilton’s late salvo by just 0.191 seconds. Vettel – fastest heading into the final moments – aborted his last run and will start a disappointing third.
The question was then put to the top-three drivers about Liberty’s new qualifying idea.
Hamilton, who heads into Sunday’s race holding a 63-point lead in his inevitable march towards championship number six, shook his head.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said with a sense of exasperation. “The people that propose it don’t really know what they are talking about.”
Vettel, a senior member of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association who was sitting a stone’s throw away from Hamilton, then went one step further.
“It is complete bull**** to be honest,” he said. “I don’t know which genius came up with this, but it is not the solution. It is just a plaster.
“We know what is going to improve things. We need to string the field closer together and have better racing. This is completely the wrong approach.”
The sporting and technical regulations are up for renewal in 2021. F1 technical chief Ross Brawn is open to tinkering with a format which involves four hours of largely-meaningless practice on Friday and Saturday before the shoot-out for pole position.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: “It is good that the drivers have a strong opinion.
“We don’t want to appear uncooperative of new ideas and (want to) be open-minded to them, but – in my opinion – we have a strong weekend format in place and we should be very careful with experimenting.”
For Sunday’s race, Leclerc will start as the favourite to secure his third-consecutive victory, with every Singapore pole-sitter since 2012 – bar Vettel two years ago – going on to take the chequered flag.
Ferrari’s machinery was not expected to suit this slow-speed venue but Leclerc’s fine performance provides them with every chance of following up their recent triumphs in Belgium and Italy.
Ferrari’s mini-resurgence comes too late for Leclerc to launch a serious title challenge, however. The young Monegasque is 102 points adrift of Hamilton with just 182 points available.
Hamilton, whose closest championship challenger in Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas starts fifth, complained about the balance of his car. He crossed the line one second off the pace following his first run, but the world champion saved his best to last to split the Ferraris and ensure he will be in contention for victory.
“It was as much as I could get out of the car,” he said. “I am happy to be on the front row and in the mix with Ferrari. We can be aggressive.”
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from eighth following an engine irregularity. He will start from the back of the grid.