Mixed reactions after Melbourne

Formula One's new one-car, one-lap qualifying format proved to be a hit with the fans when it made its debut in the Australian Grand Prix. With only one driver out on the track on a flying lap at any one time, the fans could watch his progress...

Formula One's new one-car, one-lap qualifying format proved to be a hit with the fans when it made its debut in the Australian Grand Prix.

With only one driver out on the track on a flying lap at any one time, the fans could watch his progress and compare his lap times via the jumbo TV screens to the previous drivers.

"Today, it was good," Williams-BMW's Juan Pablo Montoya said after the qualifying session March 8. "I think the fans enjoyed qualifying more than ever. You could see lap by lap and hear them in the grandstands going, 'Ooh, aah, yeah.' And that's cool. That's what everybody in F1 wants. You're basically reaching people with that."

The new qualifying format helps every team get more TV exposure because the cameras focus solely on each car during its run.

"We got three and a half minutes of uninterrupted television," Jordan-Ford team principal Eddie Jordan said. "My sponsors should be happier because it's a more equitable situation, which is very important to me, particularly."

But not everybody was happy with all aspects of the new format.

Each car must start the race with the same amount of fuel in the tank at the end of qualifying. And the teams are not allowed to make any setup changes to the cars other than adjusting the front wing.

Some drivers and teams would like to see those rules changed so that the cars would qualify with a light fuel load and a qualifying setup, and then change to race setup for the race. Because the cars now have various fuel loads in qualifying, it is difficult to compare the true speed of one car versus another.

"The Saturday formula where you have to qualify with different fuel from car to car is wrong," 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve said after qualifying sixth. "There are less reasons to take risks in qualifying because the guy that goes faster than you might have less fuel than you."

2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Montoya enjoyed the new format.

"I think it takes more out of the driver to have a heavier car with not perfect balance," he said after qualifying third. "It's a greater challenge, and when I did it, it was pretty good."

Having the cars on different fuel loads certainly created a different-looking grid. While the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello qualified first and second, respectively, in Australia, there were other anomalies such as having a Sauber on row two and McLaren on row eight.

da Matta looking forward: Cristiano da Matta's F1 debut ended on Lap 8 when he spun his Panasonic Toyota after missing his braking point.

Although 2002 CART champion da Matta earned fines of $2,500 and $2,000 for pit lane speeding March 7, his on-track performance was impressive on his first day when he set the 11th quickest time. Qualifying with a heavier fuel load than his teammate Olivier Panis on Saturday meant that da Matta, who said he made a couple of minor driving errors on his lap, ended up 16th on the grid while Panis started fifth.

Neither Toyota driver finished the race as Panis retired on Lap 32 with fuel pressure problems.

"I am very disappointed," da Matta said. "The only thing to do now is to put this behind me and go to Malaysia. It is a good thing that the next race is in 15 days and that I don't have to wait through another four months of testing for the next Grand Prix."

McLaren's winning car: The West McLaren-Mercedes that David Coulthard drove to victory in the Australian Grand Prix was a 2002 model. But the car was considerably different to the one Coulthard drove to third in the United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year and to the one Kimi Raikkonen used to finish third in the 2002 season finale in Japan.

"The entire team has worked incredibly hard with the aim of increasing our overall competitiveness," said McLaren's managing director Martin Whitmarsh. "Although there are no quick fixes, we do not intend to continue to under-perform.

"The MP4-17D has new transmission, a new rear suspension package, a new aerodynamics package, along with the new front suspension we incorporated at the end of 2002. The MP4-18 will be introduced during the European season."

The first F1 race in Europe this season is the San Marino Grand Prix on April 20 at Imola, Italy.

-ims-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Jordan