Lewis Hamilton will start on pole for Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix, but Formula One’s revamped qualifying format was nothing short of a disaster.
The new elimination-style system was introduced by the sport’s hierarchy to shake up the grid and it was Hamilton who secured the 50th pole of his career.
But the one-hour session will be remembered as a farce with no cars on track in the final minutes of the knockout session, leading Mercedes boss Toto Wolff to describe it as “rubbish”.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg will start second with the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel third on the grid.
With six minutes of the final of three timed sessions remaining, Ferrari decided to save their tyres for the Melbourne race.
And after seeing their rivals remain in the garage, Mercedes decided to follow suit.
Hamilton and Rosberg were called back into the pits, and with more than three minutes left of qualifying, fans were left staring at an empty track.
With all 22 drivers keen to get a flying lap under their belt in Q1, the first of three timed sessions – before the 90-second elimination period started, Hamilton led the field off.
Soon, Rosberg was off the track after making a meal of his first timed run before Hamilton stormed to the top of the order. That is how it remained, before attention turned to the back of the field.
A countdown clock had been promised to keep fans watching on TV up to speed with which driver faced the axe next, but mysteriously it appeared only after three drivers, the Manor of Pascal Wehrlein, his team-mate Rio Haryanto and Esteban Gutierrez, had all been eliminated.
Surely an oversight for Formula One management who are in control of the images and graphics which are beamed around the world.
From there, it was easier to follow. Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, knocked out in 18th place, being the only real surprise.
The second timed session started moments later, and while Q1 was entertaining – not least because it was difficult to follow – Q2 was somewhat of a dreary sequel.
Jolyon Palmer, who will start in 14th, sneaked ahead of his Renault team-mate Kevin Magnussen, while the McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button qualified 12th and 13th.
But as the countdown clock ticked, the drivers were not on track battling to beat the stopwatch, but mostly in their garages, knowing they would be unable to better the time in front of them.
It was a theme which continued into the final timed session and one that the strategists had feared with teams opting to save their tyres for the race rather than post a quick lap.
Max Verstappen was fifth for Toro Rosso ahead of Felipe Massa in his Williams, with Carlos Sainz seventh and Daniel Ricciardo eighth for Red Bull. The Force India pair of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10.
Wolff, who had just witnessed his Mercedes team secure a one-two, took aim at the new format. Speaking to Sky Sports, he said: “I think the new qualifying format is pretty rubbish. We need to discuss it. Everyone is trying to do their best to improve the show and if we haven’t we need to discuss it.
“The solution is not good in my opinion and that is why we have to look at it again.”