F1 gets eighth qualifying change since 2003

2008 F1 season

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Formula One qualifying is set for yet another change in response to the dangerous incident in last week’s session which saw both McLaren drivers docked five places on the grid.

To stop drivers returning to the pits very slowly and delaying others who are on hot laps, there will now be a time limit on how long they have to get back to the pits.

I make that the eighth change in six years but to be hornet I’m struggling to keep count. Why couldn’t the FIA have grabbed the chance to axe race fuel qualifying, which even Felipe Massa can see is a rubbish system, or better yet get rid of refuelling in races altogether?

But after some of this nonsense I’d settle for them just leaving it alone for five minutes. Here’s a look at the myriad changes to qualifying since 2003.

2003: Drivers do a single low-fuel qualifying lap on Friday to determine running order for Saturday. On Saturday they set a lap with race fuel to determine their starting position.

2004: The two separate sessions are combined into one single session on Saturday. But there are concerns as some drivers try to use the low-fuel session to manipulate their starting position for the second, notably at Silverstone where some drivers post slow times and Michael Schumacher even fakes a spin so he can do his second lap earlier when the track will be dried.

2005: Another major overhaul sees drivers do a single low-fuel qualifying lap on Saturday and a race-fuel qualifying lap on Sunday morning. The times are then added together (aggregated) to give the starting order. The system proves hugely unpopular particularly with fans (most of whom don’t get to see Sunday qualifying) and the press (who can no longer publish the grids in Sunday newspapers because they haven’t been set) and is dropped after just six races.

2005 (again): From round seven onwards drivers do a single lap with race fuel and go on track in the order set by their finishing position in the previous race.

2006: The current three-part knockout qualifying system is introduced, where batches of the slowest six drivers are knocked out in the first two parts as drivers set times with low fuel loads. They can change their fuel loads before the race starts, but the top ten (who set their final times with their race fuel loads) can’t.

To prevent drivers using rich mixture settings to burn off fuel in the final part of qualifying, the FIA require them to lap within a percentage of the pole time and introduce a complicated ‘fuel credit’ system to give them back the fuel they use in the third part of qualifying.

2007: To try and cut down on the amount of time drivers spend doing ‘fuel burn’ in the final part of qualifying the lengths of the sessions are changed. But it remains a problem and McLaren notably struggle to persuade their two drivers they are getting fair treatment on qualifying fuel strategies that at some venues (Monte-Carlo and Hungaroring) can determine the winner.

2008: Session times are changed again and drivers are prevented from refuelling after Q3, which gets rid of the ‘fuel burn’ problem. But at Malaysia the problem of drivers returning to the pits slowly after qualifying and obstructing other drivers on fast laps comes to the fore, and both McLaren drivers are docked five places. So…

2008 (again): Now drivers have a maximum amount of time in which to return to the pits to prevent them baulking other drivers.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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16 comments on “F1 gets eighth qualifying change since 2003”

  1. This would have been a great opportunity to drop race fuel qualifying, but the FIA would rather put in another silly and unnecessarily complex rule.

    Having low-fuel qualifying and the 107% rule would have been better.

  2. How is this maximum amount of time specified and how will that be measured ? Will FIA actually measure the time the drivers cross the pit lane entry line ?

  3. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr
    29th March 2008, 11:05

    Agree this should have brought back the old system, 1 hour 12 laps that worked fine! this race fuel qualifying is a farce, an over reaction to the dominance of schumacher and ferrari, the fia didnt introduce such drastic measures when senna and prost won 15 out of 16 races for mclaren in 88′.

    The fia’s thinking that race fuel qualifying would mix up grids because slower cars would run lighter and get into higher positions etc only worked for about 3 races in 2003 since then its more or less the fastest teams competing for the top places every race.

    When the old system was used it gave drivers the chance to change their strategies to make up for bad grip positions or as a way to reduce the performance gap of their opponents. Schumacher and bennetton did this very effectivley to beat williams in 94′ and 95′ and in my opinion 1 of schumachers best wins came in hungary 98′ when he switched from a 2 stop strategy to 3 stop strategy and came from third to win in a race the maclarens were dominating.

    It seems the fia is bringing back alot of the old systems (slicks, less downforce) so why cant they bring back the old qualifying and make polo position and actuacl achievement again rather than showing who is running the least fuel out of the  ferraris and maclarens

  4. I think we are making too much of an "idol" of the old qualifying format. If that was to return, we would see no action on track for better part of the hour … Just see how long we have to wait for cars to get out on track even now in Q2 … This new format is not all bad, except for the Q3 part and the race fuel idea …

  5. I’m another one who’s not in favour of race fuel qualifying. I much preferred the older system which gave six (I think it was six?) flying laps – much more exciting to watch!

  6. Keith, can’t understand your opposition to tinkering with Q: If it’s broke (or dangerous) it needs fixing. I think the recent adjustment is necessary, the teams will now have to add a bit more fuel to return to the pits at speed as opposed to limping back.

  7. My point is, it’s yet another tweak to a system that is fundamentally flawed. Very few people who comment here seem to like the ‘race fuel’ qualifying and I agree with them – qualifying should be about who can set the fastest lap, not some complicated and tedious exercise in guessing fuel strategies.

  8. "2005, take 2: From round seven onwards drivers do a single lap with race fuel and go on track in the order set by their finishing position in the previous race."

    Maybe I am missing something here, why do they do a hot lap if their grid position is determined from the prior race?

  9. No, the running order in qualifying was set by their finishing position in the previous race.

  10. I’d like to say that it was Britain 2004, not Bahrain of that year, where drivers deliberately went slowly and spun (because of a predicted rain storm over the circuit that, luckily for lovers of fair play, split just before reaching Silverstone). Sorry, Keith.

    The order in which the drivers went out on track in 2005, take 2 was determined by the previous race. It was the run they did with race fuel that determined their eventual grid position.

    I am worried about the latest rule change, not only because of the duct-tape nature of the "solution", but because the FIA used the word "approximately" to describe the maximum time limit. You can’t have an approximate absolute – it just doesn’t work!

     Hope this helps.

  11. I liked the idea of single shot qualification… It had a few things to consider and bought out the best in a few drivers.  I was hoping Q3 would be single shot quali with the grid reverse of the top 10 in Q2.  Guess I aint going to be happening very soon.

  12. kkeep the current system as we have it but get rid of fuel in q3@!
    even itv r saying q2 is the best part of quali whereas q3 should b the exciting one as it determines the front of the grid, and deciding pole by fuel loads is farcical as the whole point of it is to see who is fastest!
    the V8 Supercars have the knockout quali system but no fuel loads at all so it’s a genuine shootout! and tho not shown on tv this year, it is good.

  13. Why won’t the FIA drop race-fuel quali?  Simple, Max will never admit he’s wrong, and it’s his baby, it’s his idea, he’d rather die with it than live with someone else’s idea.

    But to be honest, the current change is nothing more than a minor tweak that won’t really hugely affect qualifying in any way.  And I’m pretty sure this won’t cause any problems once implemented.

  14. Another change you missed (I’m unsure if it was between 2006 and 2007, or midway through either season)… is that in the start of 2006 drivers had to have in & out laps be within 110%(?) of their fastest lap to count towards the fuel credit.  At some point however this requirement was dropped… and used to great success by Kimi Raikkonen to gain an extra lap of fuel credit over his rivals who didn’t notice the minor rule change (including Massa).

  15. A maximum amount of time to return to the pits?? I hope they described it in detail somewhere, otherwise it we’ll be left to the stewards criteria.

  16. I like the V8’s system. Genuine top 10 knock out with low fuel, one car at a time, massive pressure, great tv

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