Formula 1 Insight

A Qualifying Change From FOTA

I see FOTA have an idea for altering the qualifying procedure. While the present system definitely needs changing, I cannot help thinking that there must be more important things for the team managers to put their minds to. It seems to me that they should be building a strong defense against Max's proposed standard engine, rather than fiddling about with details of race procedures.

Mark Webber
A cool photo of Mark Webber in the RBR 4

For what it is worth, however, FOTA's suggestion is an improvement on the strange three-part qualifying in place at the moment. The third stage, in particular, comes in for a lot of criticism, the insistence on race fuel loads resulting in grids that often have more to do with strategy than actual speed. And FOTA's idea does away with this, at least.

The plan is to have all the cars on the track at the same time, eliminating the slowest after each lap until only six are left. These would then have their own mini-qualifying session, the drivers retaining their fuel load but allowed to fit new tires. It is getting closer to what I have suggested all along, a return to the old system of a given number of laps, no restrictions on tires or fuel, and everyone trying for their quickest time.

The only thing that worries me is the elimination of the slowest driver after only one lap. That seems a bit harsh to me and I would prefer that they be given a few laps to warm up before the times begin to count. Those who throw it off the road are going to find themselves out straight away, of course, but it has always been best to keep the car on the black stuff if you're looking to set a decent time.

There might be some who suffer the misfortune of a mechanical failure but that usually means the end of your qualifying period even now - so not too much change there. And one understands the driving force behind the idea - to improve the show. The reasoning goes that it is always more interesting to have several cars on track rather than long periods of complete emptiness - and the show is all nowadays, it seems.

And I suppose that it would be quite entertaining, with tension mounting as drivers dropped out and the survivors trying to avoid that bad lap that puts them in the danger zone. It would be like a sprint race with a gradually shrinking field - almost a development of Martin Whitmarsh's suggestion of extra races on the qualifying Saturday. In fact, I would be prepared to bet that is where the idea came from; the evidence is there in the extras tagged on at the end: a championship point for pole and prize money as well (F1 is over-burdened with money these days, obviously).

So I am guardedly in favor of the change, being fully aware that the authorities are never likely to admit the error of their ways by going back to an older system, even if it worked well enough at the time. The problem will be that it is not Mosley's idea and stands little chance of being adopted, therefore. Historically, he allows these discussion groups to put forward ideas and then introduces some madness of his own.

Sometimes I wonder how long it will be before the teams realize that it is all about power as far as Max is concerned. He uses the same strategy year after year and the team managers never seem to get the hang of it. Round and round they go on the Max and Bernie carousel, paying the man with the tickets but never getting quite what they expected.

Funny way to run an international sport, isn't it?


A couple of times this year a driver missed 2nd or 3rd qualification due to being blocked or perceived to have been blocked by another slower car on a pit bound lap in the last minutes. Often with penalties handed out by stewards.

In this configuration every lap is the "last minutes" and the remaining field minus one has to pass a slower pit bound car.
Date Added: 21/11/2008

Nick Goodspeed
This is a ridiculous proposition when taken into the context of motors that are expected to last 3 races.
Date Added: 21/11/2008

AJH: I thought about the problem of blocking but decided that it is something that happens whatever qualifying process is instituted (apart from the single lap flyer - which was a disaster). You are right that every lap becomes "the last minute" but FOTA would say this adds to the tension and the show, therefore.

Personally, I think, "Stuff the show, let them race," but nobody listens...
Date Added: 21/11/2008

Nick: True, but the suggestion comes from the teams so, presumably, they are prepared to cope with the extra strain on the engines.
Date Added: 21/11/2008

Seems an interesting idea from the outset but one major problem is how they are going to deal with the traffic problems caused by having all the cars on the track at one point.

Hopefully next year's cars will be much less badly affected by dirty air with the new aero regs but still I think it sounds like an idea made by someone with not a lot of F1 knowledge.

They should never have got rid of the 1996-2002 system in the first place , you are totally correct.
Date Added: 21/11/2008

Francois: My feeling is that the race fuel qualifying rule needs to go. If this idea does that, it is a step in the right direction, at least. Yes, there will be traffic problems and other difficulties that are not apparent yet - but anything is better than that silly fuel regulation.
Date Added: 21/11/2008

How are they going to count the laps? What happens if there is a 'pass' for the 'lead'?

The current format is not bad, but I truly liked the one-at-a-time flying lap solution. It could be tweaked to allow for two flying laps, allowing one 'banker' lap and one 'gonzo' lap. You got to follow everyone and there was little chance of missing a mistake by any one driver. However, I agree that for people on-site it's not the greatest.
Date Added: 21/11/2008

Presumably these are the kind of details that still need to be sorted out, Bert. Counting the laps should not be a problem, since they are already electronically recorded and passing for the "lead" should be a routine event.

Part of the problem with qualifying systems has been that none are perfect and we all have our preferences. I like the old idea of giving them an hour to set their best time and just letting them go for it, others prefer a more structured approach. One thing is certain, however - race fuel loads need to go!
Date Added: 21/11/2008

Besides for traffic, what do they do about flags? I think they're going to have to not count any lap with a flag and also another lap after to make sure no one is unfairly affected. Get a quali with lots of crashes and it could end up taking forever. The idea does seem exciting though, the three part quali has produced some awesome nailbiters, but its frustrating that the fuel loads make it impossible to really compare drivers and the outcome often doesn't feel genuine. With this new system maybe we can finally see if Heikki is any good, or will mclaren just add another tungsten brick to his chassis?
Date Added: 21/11/2008

Steven Roy
I really don't like this idea. The point of qualifying historically is that it is decided on the driver's single best flying lap. The current system requires 3 laps and that is why it doesn't work. The proposed system frankly is insane. Now a driver has to do 15 good laps to get near the front of the grid.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the 12 lap system. OK occasionally there was a spell at the start of a session where nothing happened but that could have been dealt with by either giving the drivers 3 more laps or cutting 10 minutes for the session.

Date Added: 21/11/2008

I stood up and cheered when I heard this new concept. Although there is a certain excitement in qualifying as it is now and the ability to get up and grab a drink or go to the bathroom during the breaks, having all the cars on the track is the way it should be.

This is what racing is all about and blocking, slower cars, engine life etc., they are what racing is about. I say go for it.

However, I do agree with Clive about the one lap thing. That doesn't fly at all. There are plenty of drivers who need more than one lap to get the car in an optimum state and shouldn't be dumped because of this. Sadly, my immediate thought after my cheer was where is Max on this?
Date Added: 21/11/2008

My point is, that if you have to count 14 laps (or 16 if SUppa AGGuri make it back!), having everyone on the same lap effectively resets the laps as a driver passes the start line.... but which driver?

Logically they must allow for passing to occur. If the car that is in second out of the pits / first over the start-finish line, is faster than the first car out of the pits, there is a possibility that the second car passes the first. If that does happen when does the second lap start?

If the second lap starts when the new 'leader' passes the start line, the old 'leader' has effectively not posted a time on lap one and is eliminated. (as could be anyone else that is passed on any given lap).

You could work it that you send the cars out with the directive "go and set 14 (or 16!) hot laps." You then order the list by best lap (of the 14 run), drop the driver with slowest time and drop the best time of each driver and redo the exercise 14 times. You now should have 6 drivers to fight it out.

Qualifying should leave the fan with questions as to what is the strategy for the race. Fans should not have to spend the 23 or so hours between quali and race figuring out who finished where in the quali.

I have said it before and am saying it again, do single car qualifying, with 2 flying laps. In most cases you can fit the TV show in a 1.5 hour package, interviews and all. At the longer tracks (don't you DARE touch Spa!) you might have to push that to 2 hour, unless you find a shortcut for warm-up / cool-down laps.

Hell, the racing today is more or less procesionnal anyways, why should the quali not be the same?
Date Added: 22/11/2008

Both the IRL and NASCAR use single car qualifying and it works quite well. One warm-up lap, 2 or 4 qualies and a cooldown lap. The only race rule is you start on the tires you qualify on. Works quite well, and can be exciting. How about 1 hour to set your best time, then the top 6 do single laps?
Date Added: 23/11/2008

It wasn`t broke but lets fix it, we repaired it ,but it aint quite repaired, lets correct it but it aint quite corrected, welcome to the world of endless repairs.
Date Added: 24/11/2008

Since there will be accusations of blocking anyway, why not make qualifying a single sprint race where the backmarkers are eliminated one by one after lap three? Don't stop the race, just drive until one car wins the pole.
Date Added: 01/12/2008

It makes as much sense as the suggested scheme, Chunter. But I, for one, would be worried about qualifying becoming the main attraction and the race almost an afterthought...
Date Added: 02/12/2008

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