Qualifying as "the show" - A1GP shows the way
Over the past couple of years there has been an immense amount of talk about qualifying in Formula 1. The 2006 season sees the replacement of the unloved single-lap qualy format with a new and compelx system. I won't go into the details here, others have covered the details as well as the compelx strategies that the format will drive from the teams.
What bothers me is: why do we need such a complex qualifying system? The answer given by all those in favour of changing from the single-lap system was that it would "improve the show". It's true that the single-lap qualifying introduced in 2003 was very dull. As far as I remember the reason was that the small teams complained (read: Paul Stoddart complained), that they weren't getting enough TV time for their sponsors. Nothing much could be done about that in the race (it's the TV director's decision who to watch), but if the cars went one at a time in qualifying all teams would get equal airtime there at least. I seem to remember that there was also some spin back then about single-lap qualy improving the show because viewers would be able to see every qualifying lap in full unlike the old free-for-all qualifying. For 2003 only there was also the re-introduction of Friday qualifying which had been redundant since the number of teams dropped below the maximum grid size.
In 2004 the Friday qualifying was scrapped as it was deemed to be unnecessary - most TV companies didn't broadcast it live or recorded because it didn't decide the order of the grid, only the order the cars would go out in Saturday qualifying. Instead the order was determined by a 1 hour pre-qualifying session held 1 hour before final qualifying on the saturday. Two sessions back-to-back was too much for most TV producers and so we ended up watching just the final qualifying again. Then in 2005 it was decided that it was dumb to hold two qualifying sessions back-to-back as the first one was mostly redundant - the amount of rubber placed on the track in the 1st session meant the order you went out in final qualifying wasn't nearly as important as it was in 2003 so drivers took it very casually even though they were running on low fuel.
Instead (and for no good reason) there would be qualifying sessions on two seperate days and both would count because the times would be agregated to determine the grid. The order of the first would be run in reverse order of the previous event's finishing results. The second would be run in reverse order of the first session times. The first session would be run on low fuel, the second on race-fuel levels (lost yet?). The really dumb thing though was the first session would be in the traditional Saturday lunchtime slot. The second session would be held on Sunday morning. So now, even though the first session did partially influence the final grid, it didn't decide it (unless it rained like it did in the first qualifying session under this system amusingly enough, making the second session virtually redundant). WIth Saturday qualifying not deciding the gird there was little reason to watch it, even the little excitement there was in the original single-lap format was gone. So everyone complained and for the first time, the qualifying format was changed mid-season.
The second session was dropped to make saturday qualifying like it was under the 2003 system, except that with no friday pre-qualifying the order the cars went out in had to be rather arbitrary. They went with the reverse or the finishing order from the previous race. That was felt by many to be unfair: If you retired from a race you would have to go out first in qualifying at the next race, unless someone else retired before you. That led to the interesting strategy of teams repairing cars in situations that would have previously been deemed hopeless in order to be classified a finisher and thus get a better qualifying slot for the next race weekend.
I had to bore you to tears with the previous three paragraphs just to emphasise what a disaster F1 qualifying has been since 2003. Now we have a system of byzantine compelxity to replace it for 2006 and I haven't even mentioned the subject of qualifying on race fuel yet - something the reason for which, was never adqeuately explained and which has shaped much of the complexity of the 2006 rules. The FIA wanted to drop the qualifying on race-fuel rule, but Ron Dennis complained that they had already designed the 2006 car with race-fuel qualifying in mind and didn't want to be at a disadvantage to any other team that might have gambled on a larger fuel cell.
I just watched the qualifying for the A1GP Mexico round and it had all the excitement of a classic Formula 1 qualifying session. It reminded me of what we've been missing for three years. The leader changed multiple times as the track got faster throughout the session. It was clear after the second segment that South Africa had the most potential but because the cars had multiple runs it was possible in the final segment for Switzerland and then France to better South Africa's time, before Stephen Simpson came round the final time to regain top spot for South Africa again.
A1GP qualifying is not so simple: there are four segments with each team getting a single flying lap in each make it similar to the old F1 system but without the ability to stay in your garage for half the session. The only needlessly complex part is that your best two times are agregated to determine your position. It is still much better, I think, than the knockout system we'll be seeing in F1 this year.
The new Formula 1 qualifying system introduces multiple segments with unlimited laps, the slowest cars getting knocked out at the end of the first two segments. If you've ever played the videogame Outrun, you'll know how that feels. It will result in a lot of running and for most of the one hour session and this will supposedly improve the show - if people can understand what's going on. Something that was never mentioned in any discussions about a new qualifying format was the possibility of going back to the old pre-2003 format of 12 laps in 1 hour - do what you like. No, because sometimes nobody would come out of their garage for the first 20 minutes and that was boring, like the whole three years of single-lap qualifying wasn't boring?
My point really is that although it's nice to have some excitement in qualify like I just witnessed in A1GP, the race is the show. Qualifying was traditionally only watched by motor-racing fanatics. Why does it have to be a form of nail-biting entertainment in its own right? It's nice that it has sometimes been exciting in the past, but it's the ordinary sessions that make the exciting ones stand out. Formula 1 is not the WWE!
I don't know what constitutes a motor-racing purist or whether I am one, but all I want from qualifying is the fastest car on poll and the slowest at the back. I don't want to hear about fuel strategies or "mixing the grid up" or any of that nonsense. Yes, it has on occasion led to interesting fights from the back, but it has also wrecked title challenges. I've always said in response to such sentiments that if you want to mix the grid up, have the drivers draw lots for their grid position - it would make just as much sense.OK, this post is a lot longer than I intended as I ended, but to sum up: The quest to improve the show in qualifying has wrecked Formula 1 credibility and an end should be put to it ASAP. Bring back free-for-all qualifying and maybe add a stipulation so that laps are spread out evenly in the hour, but for goodness sake stop pretending that qualifying is entertainment!
I have been critical of F1 qualifying for a long time and as the years go by it only gets worse.
Give them a full tank of gas, one out lap, one timed lap and one in lap.
end of story.
Marc (URL) - 26 02 06 - 01:09
One added question about the A1GP qualifying format, if I may. Are the drivers allowed to use the extra horsepower from the Push to Pass button while qualifying? Or are the sessions based on the normal engine power?
Dave Henrie () - 25 03 07 - 20:11
Hi Dave, the boost button is not available during qualifying.
rich () (URL) - 26 03 07 - 18:06
Thanks Rich, I’ve searched a number of sites without getting that answer. Thanks very much
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GOODMANErna33 () (URL) - 09 06 10 - 12:28
Qualifying and f1.
And how badly it sucls since Mad Max tried to make it entertaining. I’ll quote RHM on it:
Something that was never mentioned in any discussions about a new qualifying format was the possibility of going back to the old pre-2003 format of 12 laps …
Sent on 01 03 06 - 11:48 , via Lazy Drive