Everyone wants to change qualifying. Again.
I don't want to seem like qualifying is the only subject I'm willing to talk about, but I have to write about something and this seems to be the most controversial subject in F1 now.
In the week before the European Grand Prix threre were stories in the press about how the drivers wanted the final qualifying session changed so that they didn't have to tour round mindlessly burning fuel because of the stupid rules. In an interview on ITV before the start of the race, his Bernieness initially declared that he was delighted with the new qualifying system (he did have the decency to point out this was because it was his idea). When questioned about the fuel burnoff drudgery of the final session, he did then admit that he hated that part and that it wasn't his idea to do that. Bernie also declared that qualifying on race fuel had been an experiment to try and jumble the grid a bit and that with the knockout system it was no longer necessary to do that.
I've always been against all completely artificial "jumbling" of the grid - if it's so important for it to be random, why not dispose of qualifying altogether and draw positions from a hat or start in a different order at each race on a rota system? That would save even more money, just like setting up the rules so teams don't run more than a few laps on Fridays does. It would also have a similarly detrimental effect on attendence at races, but of course I'm not serious. It is at least interesting, if not absolutely important, to know which car/driver combination is fastest outside of the race situation where so many compromises come into effect. Although we still don't necessarilly have the fastest driver start on pole with the current rules, we do at least have all 22 cars going as fast as they can earlier in the qualifying hour.
As far as changing the current qualifying rules within this season - that would require the agreement of all 11 teams - not an easy thing to achieve, although they managed it last year by disposing of the agregate system part way through the season. There are a number of alternative rule changes I can think of that I'll go through in detail:-
1. Allow all the cars to re-fuel as they see fit, both during and after qualifying.
This is what Bernie originally proposed. I wrote previously about how there is a race-fuel qualifying requirement in the final qualifying session due to objections from team bosses (read: Ron Dennis) that they'd already designed their cars with this in mind.
Pros: This would make the final 20 mins more like the old pre-2003 qualifying system. Cars wouldn't spend the whole time out on track, allowing drivers more of a chance to get a clear run and allowing TV viewers a better chance of seeing the qualifying lap live (something that didn't happen in Australia for example). Drivers would also be able to make more than one qualifying run without penalty as they could go out more than once and still be on an optimal fuel load each time. This would allow drivers to respond to each other's laps or save sets of tyres for the race by not going out in the dying minutes.
Cons: Would jumble the grid less than both the single-lap system and the current system because drivers have more chances to get things right and find the true ultimate pace of their cars. Would also possibly be unfair on some teams depending on the size of their fuel cells (though I think it's been established in the races so far that most cars are similar).
2. Stick with the current re-fueling rules but shorten the session to 10 minutes.
I would call this option treating the symptoms instead of the disease. It would cut out most of the useless fuel-burning part of qualifying, but it would further force drivers towards only running one qualifying lap instead of having two attempts as most drivers have so far. In that sense it's an insane idea as we would be back to single-lap qualifying but with everyone attempting their qualifying lap at the same time.
Pros: Would eliminate most of the tedium and waste of the current system.
Cons: Would lead to driver's spending even less time actually trying to set a qualifying time. Would lead to massive track congestion at the end of the session and even less chance of the TV viewers seeing the winning lap live.
3. Qualify on race fuel, but don't give fuel credits.
Currently drivers are allowed to add some amount of fuel to the car after the qualifying session for each lap run in qualifying. I've discussed the reasons of how this convoluted system came to be previously but just to reiterate, there is a minimum time that each lap must be completed in otherwise the driver doesn't get fuel back for that lap. That is to stop dangerously slow driving in the interests of fuel conservation.
This proposal would do away with these so-called "fuel credits". Teams would still have to decide before the session how much fuel to add to the car and they would start the race with whatever is left at the end of the session.
Pros: Driver's wouldn't clog up the track and waste the first 15 mins of the session burning off fuel because they wouldn't be getting any back under this proposal.
Cons: So many... This is another "back to single lap qualifying" proposal in effect. Although drivers would be able to make a second run if they screwed up, there would be a large incentive to make only one. If they planned to make two runs, the first would always be slower than necessary due to having more fuel on board. If they planned to make one run but needed to make a second they'd be eating into their race fuel (which might already be quite skinny if they were going for "saturday night glory"). This would lead to less on-track action and no head-to-head battles with drivers trading fastest laps. It would also add a powerful incentive to drive very slowly on in and out laps, causing danger to other drivers. It would also remove the current means of sanction against this (the removal of the fuel credit). OK, they could fine drivers for excessively slow speed and blocking, but it would be better if drivers didn't need to drive slowly in the first place.
It should be pretty obvious that I'm in favour of option 1. His original proposal for knock-out qualifying is one thing Bernie got right. The team owner(s) that objected to it first time around should now acknowlege the unpallatable consequences of the rules that were put in place instead and remove those objections. Do I see that actually happening though? Not likely. Options 2 and 3 are far more likely to be voted in, even though they would in many ways be even worse than what we have now.
Lastly I have to point out that there are still some people who actually think qualifying on race fuel is a good idea. I find it hard to understand how they could possibly feel that way, but like people voting Liberal Democrat or buying R&B records, it does happen. It is possible proposal 1 would be ignored because of that rather than because of the vested interests of Mr. Dennis. I do hope not though.
Good post Richard. I remember the first qualifying change (2003 I believe) and why it was changed: with the ‘old’ 12-laps-1 hour-banzai-run rule, sometimes nobody came out on-track for the first half an hour. Paying spectators didn’t like that, so they changed the rules.
All this talk about ‘muddling up the grid’ is just absolute fiction: can you name one single race in the last three years that has been great because of the order the runners qualified? Sure, we’ve had the odd Kimi or Schumi charge from the back, but that’s mainly been down to engine penalties (don’t even get me started on that subject). So if the purpose of the qualifying change was to make the grids more interesting and therefore the racing more interesting, then I don’t think it’s worked as planned.
Think of why they changed the aero rules in ’04: bigger engine covers, rear wing endplates etc. Why the change? Sponsorship. A commercial reason, pure and simple. And it’s the same for qualifying: ensuring all teams get equal exposure for their sponsors (which, on paper at least, is admirable) and thereby generating more revenue for themselves and the sport.
There’s been far too much talk of ‘improving the show’, but it’s all being done to the detriment of the ‘sport’.
For what it’s worth, I would keep the current system as it is, but let the last 10 runners have as many laps on whatever fuel they like. A 20 minute session that harks back to the good old 12-lap-1-hour format. Remember the excitement of Jerez ’97, when Frentzen, Villeneuve and Schumacher all set an identical qualifying time within seconds of each other?
John (URL) - 10 05 06 - 02:46
Thanks for the comments John. Yes I remember that qualifying session well, AFAIK the only time the regulation that they needed the “first place goes to the driver that set the time first” rule to split the ties.
I think it’s pretty well documented that single-lap qualifying was introduced because the small teams (well, Minardi mostly) complained that they weren’t getting a fair share of TV time during qualifying. After it was introduced it’s defenders would talk up the fact that it filled the 1hr session whereas the old system often didn’t. There are many other ways to fill the 1hr that are simpler than the current system and less tedious than single-lap qualy.
Besides, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post on qualifying, I don’t see why qualifying has to be seen as part of “the show”. The race is the show – if people want to watch qualifying because they love F1, then that’s fair enough, but it shouldn’t have any “entertainment value” required. If people want to turn up to the circuit they can also watch practice and warm-up sessions – not having cars on track for the first 20mins of the qualifying hour shouldn’t be cause for complaint. Trouble is limited mileage engines and limits on tyre useage have cut down on all other track action as well.
rich () - 15 05 06 - 06:06