By Alan Baldwin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Formula One could have a new qualifying format as early as this season after team bosses agreed the change at talks in Switzerland on Tuesday.
Sources with knowledge of the discussions told Reuters that the Formula One commission meetings in Geneva had produced "constructive development" on topics including agreement on a new elimination-style qualifying.
However any change was subject to final approval by the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) World Motor Sport Council next month.
More details are likely to emerge at pre-season testing on Wednesday in Barcelona.
The season begins in Australia on March 20.
The meetings of the core strategy group, which includes the top six teams, the FIA and commercial rights holder, and broader Formula One commission had been due to discuss major changes for 2017 to make racing more exciting.
However, specialist motorsport websites reported the qualifying change could be introduced this season with an outline agreement in place.
Qualifying formats have changed repeatedly over the years, ranging from each car doing a single lap alone to a frenetic all-out battle for pole with all cars on track at once.
The current version is divided into three phases in a one hour period divided by short breaks. The slowest six cars are eliminated at the end of each of the first two sessions before a final shootout for pole involving 10 cars.
However, world champions Mercedes have been dominant in qualifying in the last two years and turned that advantage into a string of wins -- they won 16 of 19 races last year and have taken 32 of the last 38.
Under the new proposal, the slowest drivers would be eliminated during the sessions rather than the cut coming at the end of them.
The motorsport.com website said the new system would see a car eliminated every 90 seconds once a 'safe' time period expired and until the quota was complete, ensuring constant track action.
Previously, the driver of a quick car could save a set of tyres by sitting out much of the session and only putting in a late lap to be sure of progress to the next phase.
The new first phase would last 16 minutes, the second 15 and third 14 minutes.
Seven drivers would be eliminated in each of the first two sessions with eight going through to the final round. Further eliminations would leave two remaining to chase for pole in the final minute and a half.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)