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Qualifying farce could be first embarrassment of many in F1

Hurrah for common sense.

It is not a notion that we often come to associate with Formula One, but in fear of yet further embarrassment for the sport, it is one which prevailed on Thursday.

Jean Todt, the president of motor sport’s world governing body the FIA, and Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One’s 85-year-old chief executive, finally bowed to pressure from the sport’s 11 teams and agreed to revert back to last year’s qualifying format from the Chinese Grand Prix until the end of the season.

Both men, keen advocates of shaking up qualifying in 2016, had fiercely opposed such change but after the teams presented a united front, Todt and Ecclestone were backed into a corner from which they could see no light.

And for that, Todt and Ecclestone must take some credit. Total unanimity is required to bring change in Formula One, and without such a climbdown the sport could have been plunged into further farce.

Yet privately Todt, and in particular Ecclestone, will be furious.

Ecclestone has been running the sport long before many of the drivers were even born, but never in his reign has he faced a sterner test to his authority. The drivers are revolting – last month they penned an open letter criticising the “obsolete and ill-structured” governance of the sport – and now the teams are taking him on, too.

Ecclestone, alongside the former FIA president Max Mosley, used to run the sport with an iron fist. If they wanted change, they made it happen. But Todt, who replaced Mosley in 2009, is on the rather opposite end of the political spectrum.

In a 70-minute briefing with journalists in Bahrain, the former Ferrari team principal insisted he was not a dictator, nor does he want to be one. Needless to say his view is not shared by Ecclestone. Russian president Vladimir Putin, labelled by many political commentators as a dictator, can count Formula One’s chief executive among his biggest fans.

“He’s the guy who should run Europe,” Ecclestone said of Putin earlier this year.

“He will sort out this other business that is going on in Syria. The good thing is that he does what he believes to be right and he stands by it. It’s hard to talk him out of anything.

“I’ve said before that I don’t much like democracy. Nothing gets done.”

From a purely sporting perspective, perhaps Ecclestone does have a point. How much longer can Formula One continue in its current guise where every party, complete with differing agendas, needs to agree change?

Once a ruling is determined by F1’s Strategy Group, it is then put to the F1 Commission – a party consisting of 26 members – where 18 votes are then required for a motion to pass. No wonder the sport so often faces deadlock.

Yet, under the terms of the latest Concorde Agreement which was signed in 2013, this is how Formula One is set to be governed for a further four years.

The elimination-style qualifying format, seemingly doomed from its inception in only February, and its subsequent scrapping has painted a dark chapter in the history of the sport.

But it could be one of many embarrassing sideshows in the coming months, and years, as Ecclestone, the FIA, and the teams battle for control of the sport.

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