By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One's governing body approved on Friday a new elimination-style qualifying format that will be implemented from this month's Australian season-opener, despite some drivers questioning why it was necessary.
The International Automobile Federation (FIA) announced the change in a statement after a meeting of its World Motor Sport Council in Geneva.
The format is the same as one agreed unanimously last month by the Formula One Commission which includes teams and stakeholders.
A source present at the meeting told Reuters that problems involving timing software that could have postponed the implementation of the new format had been resolved.
The first qualifying session of the season will be in Melbourne on March 19.
Under the new procedure, the slowest drivers will be eliminated as the three sessions progress rather than at the end of each phase as was the case last season.
The first session will last 16 minutes with the slowest driver eliminated once seven minutes have lapsed. Another six will follow at 90-second intervals with 15 going through to the second phase.
The next session will last 15 minutes with the slowest driver eliminated after six. The same 90-second sequence follows until eight drivers are left.
The final 14 minutes will see one driver eliminated after five minutes and then one every 90 seconds until two are left fighting for pole position with 1-1/2 minutes remaining.
The new format has been introduced to make qualifying more exciting but not all drivers are fans of the change.
"It is a little bit chaotic if a couple of weeks before the season you start to reinvent certain rules and the formats of qualifying," said Ferrari's four times world champion Sebastian Vettel.
"I'm personally not a fan of the (new) qualifying and I think, speaking on behalf of all the drivers, no driver is. We don't get what is wrong with the old qualifying and why they changed it," the German told Sky Sports television.
Although the plan to change the format was announced last week, commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone introduced an element of uncertainty when he said subsequently that the timing software could not be ready in time for Melbourne.
The 85-year-old Briton said then that it would take at least until the fifth race of the season in Spain.
The situation was further confused when team managers met during pre-season testing and proposed further tweaks that would have seen the first two phases changed before reverting to the old format for the final shootout for pole position.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)