Formula One may have a new qualifying system for the upcoming season, with drivers being eliminated every few minutes.
The proposal was unanimously approved in a meeting between series stakeholders in Geneva, governing body FIA said on Wednesday.
The new system will be evaluated for introduction at the first Grand Prix of the year in Australia on March 20. A final vote is expected next week by FIA’s World Motor Sport Council.
Teams, promoters, and FIA also approved “new measures designed to deliver a faster, more spectacular” F1 championship in 2017. New bodywork regulations have been adopted to create “more exciting cars.”
The F1 commission also confirmed the intention of introducing “some form of cockpit protection” next season, hoping to avoid head injuries such as the ones that killed IndyCar driver Justin Wilson and F1 driver Jules Bianchi.
“All stakeholders are working together to make this a reality, with the ‘halo’ concept currently the preferred option,” FIA said in a statement. “Other options, such as transparent cockpit protection, will continue to be evaluated.”
The new qualifying system would have three separate sessions, like now, but instead of having the slowest drivers eliminated at the end of each session, they would be dropped one by one every minute-and-a-half.
All cars would have seven minutes to set their times in the beginning of the session, and seven drivers would be eliminated.
Another seven drivers would be eliminated in the second session after having six minutes to set their times, one by one again, and the final eight would advance.
In the final session, drivers would have five minutes to set their times before the 90-second elimination begins, until two cars are left for the final minute-and-a-half duel.
“It is a strange idea, as I don’t see it will make a massive difference,” rookie British driver Jolyon Palmer said. “I didn’t see qualifying as an issue.”
Currently, the slowest six cars are eliminated in each of the first two sessions, and the remaining 10 participate in a final shootout for the pole position.
The stakeholders also adopted measures to improve racing and try to make F1 more attractive to fans and television audiences. F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said this week in an interview with the Daily Mail in England that the series “is the worst it has ever been,” and he “wouldn’t spend money to take (his) family to watch a race.”
The cars and the tires will be wider, carrying more downforce and better grip. It’s estimated the 2017 cars can be up to three seconds faster than the current ones.
The changes still need to be formalised and ratified by the World Motor Sport Council by April 30. The stakeholders agreed to postpone the original deadline of March 1 to give all parties “the best opportunity to complete all relevant work.”
The deadline extension should give more time for studies on a closed cockpit so it can be somehow implemented in time for the 2017 season.
“I just don’t like it,” Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg said during preseason testing in Barcelona. “Single-seat racing was always open, and I’d like to see it remain open.”
The “halo” concept would add protection surrounding the driver’s head, without completely closing the cockpit.
“I’m open to it,” Sauber driver Felipe Nasr said. “If it’s really something that will improve our safety and without affecting drivability, I’m open to it, and don’t see a problem implementing this in F1.”
The stakeholders also discussed topics related to the cars’ power units, including the possibility of “further improvement of noise.” Regulation changes were supposed to make cars louder this year but the effects fell short of most expectations.
The F1 commission said it also agreed to introduce an award for driver of the day to engage fans more. Viewers will be encouraged to vote online, and the winning driver will be announced as part of the race broadcast immediately after the race.