The new qualifying format is not only unnecessary, but it will fail to lead to mixed-up grids after a period of time.
Formula 1 rulemakers have been considering a revamp of the grand prix format for some time now, with both reverse grids and sprint races, among others, being mooted by the members of the Strategy Group.
While such ideas never received the necessary support, a new qualifying format has been approved following Tuesday’s meeting in Geneva.
In true gimmicky fashion, and more in line with casual games, drivers will be eliminated every 90 seconds in a knockout format.
Q1 - 16 minutes
- After the first 7 minutes, the slowest driver is eliminated;
- Slowest driver eliminated every 90 seconds;
- in all 7 drivers are eliminated and remaining 15 progress to Q2
Q2 - 15 minutes
- After 6 minutes, slowest driver eliminated;
- Slowest driver eliminated every 1 minute 30 seconds;
- 7 drivers eliminated, remaining 8 progress to Q3
Q3- 14 minutes
- After 5 minutes, slowest driver eliminated;
- Slowest driver eliminated every 1 minute 30 seconds thereafter until the chequered flag;
- 2 drivers left in final 1 minute 30 seconds.
The idea is to ensure more cars on track, while also adding spice to the show. Pirelli’s high degradation tyres, which usually last for one or two flying laps, will form an important part of the equation, requiring drivers to continuously pit for fresh compound without exhausting their supplies.
Theoretically, it should lead to mixed up grids, which, in turn, will make races more exciting. But the question is: for how long?
Not a long term solution
Formula 1 teams employ the best of strategists who will master the new format within a few races. The unpredictably will be lost soon and we’ll starting coming up with the same grids as we do now.
Yes, there will be that occasional upset, where a team fumbles with the timing, or a driver gambles with the prime tyres, but this is something the current format also provides.
The new format will then become a complicated way of arriving at the starting grid.
If ain’t broke, don’t fix it
The current qualifying format is hailed by many as the best in history, adding a bit of unpredictability while giving drivers enough time to set their quickest possible lap on board.
Yes, purists still prefer the one-hour format where drivers can pound around the track for ‘x’ number of timed laps, but what we have at present doesn’t necessarily require a change.
Moreover, qualifying is mostly watched by diehard fans, who will remain glued to their screens regardless of the level of entertainment. These are the same set of people who watch four hours of practice on Friday and Saturday, seeing drivers go round and round, while also gaining valuable insights from commentators and pitlane reporters.
And finally, is qualifying really supposed to be the most exciting part of the weekend? No, that honour goes to Sunday’s race. No one complains if qualifying is dull or predictable, but if the race turns out to be monotonous, fans quickly start moaning about the state of Formula 1.
Solving the real problem
The latest rule implemented by the rulemakers show how much out of touch they are with the sport. Instead of solving key issues that have led to so much negativity in recent years, they’ve been trying to make changes in areas that are of relatively less importance.
As we urged in the beginning of the year, the Strategy Group needs to devise measures that aid natural overtaking by giving priority to mechanical grip over aero grip.
Many top-tier F1 engineers, including Williams' Pat Symonds and James Allison from Ferrari, have warned that the proposed 2017 regulations, now watered down, may be detrimental for overtaking.
Increase in downforce will, surely, make the cars faster, but it would make it harder to follow another driver closely.
So, there you go. An unnecessary rule change that will not make any change to the 'show'.
by Rachit Thukral