By Alan Baldwin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - A new qualifying format will shake up the Formula One starting grids this season, adding to the stress on teams and drivers and making races more exciting, strategists said on Wednesday.
Whether it will improve the show on Saturday afternoons, when qualifying takes place, is less certain.
"I don't think it's going to improve qualifying itself... but what it has a good chance of doing is improving the race," Williams engineering head Pat Symonds told reporters.
"It's quite a difficult situation, it's done at very short notice, so we're not going to have a lot of time to get our thoughts together and optimize everything and write loads of software to help us."
Symonds has seen a variety of qualifying formats come and go and suspected the latest, which will see the slowest drivers eliminated at 90 second intervals during sessions, would catch out even the best.
"I think all of us are going to make mistakes, particularly early on and that means there will be occasions when cars are out of position (on the grid)," he said.
"We will see some of the quicker cars a bit further back, and we all know that's given us some great races in the past."
The new format was approved by teams on Tuesday and is set to be introduced at the season-opener in Melbourne on March 20.
The FIA said the elimination format would be in three phases lasting 16, 15 and 14 minutes respectively.
After seven minutes of the first session had lapsed, the slowest driver would be eliminated with others following at 90-second intervals.
Fifteen of the 22 go through to the next phase, with the slowest eliminated after six minutes. The same 90-second sequence would ensue until eight were left.
The final session sees a driver eliminated after five minutes and then every 90 seconds until two are left fighting for pole position with one and half minutes remaining.
"It's extra pressure for everybody," said McLaren's racing director Eric Boullier. "We will have to be very coordinated and we can't release the car or ask the drivers to do their lap time at the wrong time any more. We have no flexibility."
Mexican driver Esteban Gutierrez, now with the new Haas team, welcomed the change.
"I like it. Any positive change we can do, we have to go for it, try different things and not stay the same," he told Reuters.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)