Debate: Are some starting grids unfair?

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Felipe Massa,  Lewis Hamilton, Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen, Istanbul, 2008, 470150

Nik left an interesting comment in the Turkish Grand Prix Facts and Stats article about how much of an advantage the drivers who started on the clean side of the grid had at Istanbul:

Hamilton (third) overtook Kovalainen (second)
Kubica (fifth) overtook Raikkonen (fourth) and Kovalainen (second)
Alonso (seventh) overtook Webber (sixth) and Raikkonen (fourth)
Heidfeld (ninth) overtook Trulli (tenth)
Rosberg (eleventh) overtook Trulli (eighth) and Couthard (tenth)

The rules prevent drivers from being allowed to clean the piece of track they start from. But should that rule should be changed to lessen the disadvantage of starting off-line, particularly at tracks like Istanbul where it is a big problem?

The sporting regulations state:

30.3 b) Other than by driving on the track, Competitors are not permitted to attempt to alter the grip of any part of the track surface.

However it is clear that some circuits lend a massive advantage to drivers who start on the clean side. This is because at circuits like Istanbul and the Hungaroring the racing line passes straight along the grid hatching for the drivers behind the pole sitter.

That combined with how infrequently those circuits are used makes an off-line starting position a major disadvantage. So should something be done about it in the interest of fairness?

Allowing the teams to prepare the surface as they wish might be one solution. But I expect if that were allowed we would quickly see teams applying some kind of grip-enhancing chemical to their starting positions to improve their getaways!

A simpler option might just be to allow the track organisers to clean the surface. This is often seen in Indy Racing during caution periods to allow drivers to use the higher line on ovals for overtaking.

Another solution would be to use a rolling start at these races, which would lessen the disadvantafe of having to start off-line as the car would already be moving. A proper two-by-two one as seen in Indy Cars would be rest, rather than the one-by-one rolling starts occasionally seen in F1 when it’s very wet (like at Fuji last year).

I think that would be a welcome addition to the spectacle that would add some variety and require the drivers to show another element of their race craft.

Do you think something should be done? Or is it not a problem that needs solving?

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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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44 comments on “Debate: Are some starting grids unfair?”

  1. I do think that the start often brings us the only overtakes of the whole race. Lessening their impact seems a bad idea. The difficult start here is a big part of what brought us such a great race. We should be making that kind of thing more commonplace not less.

    The simplest thing would be to allow drivers to opt to go down a place if they wanted to. I bet no driver would take it.

  2. maybe have the grid spaces in line instead of staggered like they usually are on dirty tracks?

  3. I see your point Alex but what we have at the moment is a lottery where if one of the drivers lands on an even-numbered position on the grid (which has nothing to do with the quality of their qualifying performance) they’re at an automatic disadvantage at some tracks.

    I think the problem of overtaking in Formula 1 is a different matter (one we’ve covered a couple of times! Here and here for example).

  4. F1 is one of the last major forms of motor sport with a standing start…. and I think it should stay that way. I’m actually quite disappointed that we don’t have standing starts for restarts (even when under the safety car).

  5. I grew up watching american open wheel and stock car racing, all of which had “flying” starts. The standing starts in F1 were breathtaking when I first saw them, and still are, and had a lot to do with my initial interest in the sport. I think moving to flying starts would be a mistake.

  6. Maybe have the organisers scub down both sides of the grid before the race? Remove all the built up rubber, and make both sides equally low grip.

  7. Maybe you could give the teams a 30min practice, using test drivers on Sunday but freeze changes to the “race” cars. This would allow teams who qualified on the dirty side to clean up with a few passes off line.

    Better yet give them two warm up laps prior to the start, this would allow the drivers to go down the straight prior to lining up. The issue here is P1 could simply drive extremely slow down the straight to minimize the effect of running off line.

  8. This also explains why every Turkish Grand Prix has been won from pole

    If you watch the start of yesterdays race, you will see that Massa, Hamilton and Kubica (starting from 1st, 3rd, 5th) get away perfectly and much faster than Kovalainen, Raikkonen and Webber (2nd, 4th, 6th). In fact, Massa/Hamilton/Kubica form a perfect procession to take 1st/2nd/3rd into the first corner.

    The advantage of the clean side of the grid at Istanbul is huge.

    I don’t think its because the track is only used once a year, because there are plenty of street circuits that don’t have such an extreme difference (eg. Albert Park).

    There shouldn’t be any major changes to make the starts more fair, they should just adjust the grid positions, or clean the track, to compensate. If you simply switched the grid over and had pole position on the left-hand side (dirty side, but with a head start) you would even it out a lot

  9. Rolling starts should be nowhere near an F1 race – they are the very definition of a lower category single seater race.

  10. OK, why do you think that Rohan?

  11. The standing start helps make the race,I couldn’t imagine a rolling start.I would even say that is the most exciting part of the race for me.

  12. Nik, somehow I guess Alain Prost has bad memories concerning your idea…

  13. Well I would much rather see a cleaner track than a rolling start. I don’t know why I feel this other than a standing start seems, to me, to be a very F1 proposition.

  14. Keep away from the rolling start….
    The grid start works well – why not clean the whole grid area on sunday before the race then no advanntage to anyone – few guys with presure cleaners would do the job

  15. I agree there should be something done about that and I also agree that the rolling start is not really the way to go.

    Maybe going back in time and adopting the start where all cars are parked at 45 angles, one next to another.

    But I guess that complicates things with the warming lap..

  16. It looks pretty obvious that most people don’t want the ‘rolling’ start to be introduced, but I do think the start at Turkey highlighted an age old problem.
    On Saturday, everybody was applauding Heikki Kovalainen’s performance, and rightly so.
    After coming back from that 150mph crash in Barcelona, to then put his McLaren second on the grid, showed the man’s determination and talent. He really dug deep for that advantage, only to lose it at the start.
    We saw the same thing with Kimi Raikkonen, widely regarded as one of the quickest starters in F1, so it was not something that only affected Kovalainen.
    For me it is simple. The full grid must be free of all spent rubber, or ‘marbles’, and other debris, before the start of any F1 race. There must be no excuses, no reasons for not doing it.
    Lets face it, it only comes down to cleaning twenty grid hatchings, thats it! Otherwise, why should a driver push for second on the grid when he is better placed in third? It defeats the whole object.

  17. I think the simplest solution would be the easiest one here – before race send a commando of cleaners and clean up the grid . not that difficult I believe. it still would not make the conditions 100% equal but at least the starting grid would be more fair

    but drivers do not seem to be too concerned about this, haven’t heard anybody calling out for any action on this issue, so the “dirty side” of the grid is here to stay for a while

  18. Me thinks that the advantage to be gained when on pole is perhaps the initiative needed to qualify better. So it is fair, i’d say.

    Can we also go back to ligh-weight, all ballsy quali of yesteryears? I thought that was whole point of it. To find who can go quickest. Now we have strategies and blah blah blah. It adds to racing alright, however, i liked it much more before. Also, i thought Kimi and Kovi lost positions owing to their tangle.

  19. MacademiaNut
    13th May 2008, 6:12

    Here’s my solution to this problem.

    Starting from the best qualifier, you allow the racer to choose their position in the grid. Clean and Simple.

    In this case, Massa would have chosen 1, Raikkonen would have chosen Grid position #3; Hamilton probably would have chosen #2.

    I agree that they need to do something about the grids; Perhaps the above solution is too complex to implement. Cleaning the surface before the race may be much simpler.

  20. no rolling starts!
    they’d end up up running in thier grid order!

  21. Robert McKay
    13th May 2008, 8:36

    This is why Sunday morning warm-up was so useful: the drivers/teams know where they’ve qualified by then and so can go spend some time cleaning up their grid slot and laying some rubber down. Bring that back…? But MacademiaNut’s suggestion also makes some good sense.

    Rolling starts seem very hit and miss – getting the field to line itself up properly is very difficult and I sometimes think that the race directors just let dodgy starts go (A1GP – guilty) because it’s so tricky to align at the right moment.

    On a completely tangential note – how possible would it be to create a track where the track surface off the racing line was laid with a much grippier tarmac than that on the racing line? I suggest this idea partially because of this and partially because I wonder if it would help overtaking if yo could go off-line and find an equivalent (at least) level of grip.

  22. rolling starts for F1 tracks like Melbourne where the first corner is pinched could prove problematic, so many cars already nearing top speed at such a tight corner.

    I think its a good idea, but at least wait until Coulthard retires to make sure its safe.

  23. Its the same for everybody.

  24. Keith, I feel that if a rolling start is needed it is because the drivers in the series are unable to master a standing start.

    Also, (I think that) there have been a number of occassions where the “two-by-two” aspect of the grid hasn’t been fully “enforced”, and when that happens it looks decidedly amateur. It might be possible for F1 to remove this amateurish look to the rolling start, but I feel that F1 should be “special” and one part of that is that it doesn’t have rolling starts.

    On another note, I’d love it if they brought back the morning warm-up, which would have the added benefit of allowing drivers to clean up the grid in a “normal” fashion.

  25. To digress a little:I like the idea of a ‘non-flying’ restart – the Safety Car comes out, ALL the cars are allowed into the Pits for fuel/tyres etc, No 1 car then No 2 car. When all the cars are on track they are allowed to get back in order behind the Safety Car, who brings them back to the Grid, where they stop and the SC does a final lap to confirm the track is clear (like at the start), and as it comes to the back of the Grid, the race starts again.
    Keeping the track clean at the start of a race is very important – surely the millions of FIA Officials who are present at every race would be checking on this? It would seem very unfair if there was seen to be an advantage anywhere on the Grid – and the FIA would pick up immediately if a Team or a Driver was seen to make an advantage for themselves!
    Perhaps its time for the Drivers and Teams to call for a better standard of track at the circuits? And a much higher standard of ‘Clean’ track? I think every circuit should have the ability to keep the Grid, the Racing Line and the Corners very clean!

  26. DG the problem at a circuit like Turkey is that you’d never get off the first lap. There is always a first lap incident.

  27. Rohan, yes and no, while standing starts are difficult rolling starts have a whole other degree of skill needed, being able to keep a fuel heavy car stable.

    Which was Newtown’s and Montoya’s major strengths.

  28. In my view standing starts are more fair then the rolling ones, except in the adesion point. (good point to debate Keith!).

    To clean de grid is very diferent then changing grip (like to spread glue, sand or oil over the the track). I hate “over-rules”.

  29. Instead of cleaning the dirty side, why not add dirt to the clean side?


  30. Sri: “i thought Kimi and Kovi lost positions owing to their tangle”

    They tangled after both losing positions due to starting on the dirty side of the track.

  31. Brar – I don’t mean ‘over-rules’, I mean better standards! Somebody needs to make a stand or we will have a whole generation of ‘better’ cicuits which all the cars fall off on the corners!
    Alex – and isn’t the point also to encourage better driving and better drivers? All F1 drivers should be able to do a standing start or not be allowed on the grid in first place. For example, if all the teams involved in the mess at the start of the last race were fined or penalised, it would encourage them to either train their drivers better or get better drivers…

  32. I think the best solution is bringing back Sunday morning practice, as some have already suggested. My vote is up for that. Nothing too complicated and does not dilute anything that is unique about F1.

  33. It would help if tracks like Turkey were used more. Tracks which hold many races a year generally have more equal sides. I think the clean/dirty side is part of racing, but that doesn’t mean it has to be as pronounced as it is in some places.

    This would also give the track owners a stronger position from which to argue their financial positions with Bernie (non-F1 races usually make a modest profit, else they don’t stay on the track calender), which would make the Bernie fee cheaper for all track owners.

    I also like Sri’s idea of re-introducing Sunday morning practise (perhaps for an hour just before the GP2 race and shuffle the F1 race so that it starts slightly later). The only wrinkles would be the endurance components and fuel-in qualifying rules – both of which are rubbish, but neither of which the FIA seems willing to change. You’d need to be able to use Friday engines and gearboxes for the rule to work and fuel rules would have to switch to the “declare before Q3 and then fuel-out until the race” proposed by the drivers towards the beginning of the three-stage-qualifying era, if those two rules had to stay in some form. But apart from that, it would be a lot of fun for everyone.

  34. William Wilgus
    13th May 2008, 14:16

    Flying starts? NO.
    Equalizing the starting grid position `cleanliness’ would be a simple matter with a vacuum truck. At least here in the U.S., they’re common enough (think cleaning parking lots).

  35. I just think its part of racing, if everyone stayed in the same place at the start the rest of the race is often boring

  36. DG.
    I hate Mosley “Ferboten” rules. I prefer your idea then the law that compel to tyres changes, refuel and many others sport-technical “Over-rules”.

    Wilgus. The Vaccum cleaner seems to be a simple and good solution. The truck may be complicated to transport all over the world, but a vaccum towed modulus could be standard.

  37. @ Fred B – the dirty side (with rubber) is actually the clean side, so it is all about cleaning the clean side and make it dirty :-)

  38. 37 comments above …… no one reads this far ……
    Standing starts are traditional to F1. We can’t give them up because of some ‘clack’ at turn one. I can get a big road sweeper from a NASCAR friend and we’ll sweep turn one first thing Sunday morning. How simple can it get?

  39. Very clear to me. Last weekend was very unfair to the even drivers, see that Massa-Hamilton-Kubica-Alonso start is quite clear of what we are talking about. See that 2º was 5th after two corners and then 18th, 4th was 6th, and 6th went to seven.

    Cleaning to level both parts of the grid should be allowed if at least one of the teams asks for it. And by the way a veto vote is not allowed.

  40. I prefer the standing start to the rolling start simply because it takes skill to get a car adequately brought to speed.

    I think the simple solution is to give the driver that qualifies second the right to defer his grid spot and take the third position, forcing the person from third up to second, and so on as they go down the grid as necessary, as if you are qualifying for grid position -choice- instead of grid positions themselves.

  41. michael counsell
    13th May 2008, 19:04

    Its unlucky but maybe they should arrange the grid more evenly like in Imola to take account of the curving straight.

  42. I don’t see why anything should change. Sounds like most of the “fans” want to pamper their favorite drivers. Ah, bless them.
    Each race weekend usually has support races, should the grid be cleaned for all of those also?
    Plus, if you clean the grid area that puts the guys at the front of the grid at a disadvantage anyway as they will leave the grid area soonest and be on a dirty track.
    This is all part of racing, how many times do we hear F1 drivers commenting on the track having to “rubber in” again after a touring car or GP2 race that was run before qualifying?
    Honestly, it ain’t broke and nothing needs fixing. If anything it mixes it all up, gets faster drivers out of position so you can see what they are made of.

  43. Spot on ‘bowks’ …. if I had said that they’d throw a
    handful of the clack I just swept up at me! Me thinks some are pampering their favorites or at least the front runners. The clean side/dirty side doesn’t mean diddily to the car gridded 14th !!!!! And read the title of this thread….. SOME grids …….that’s all we need is a new rule that works in one place and screws up another, that’s FIA thinking! This is not a problem, we ought to be resolving the safety car issues.

  44. A better solution would be the return of the pre-race warming up. Before the post-qualifying parc fermé was introduced drivers could ‘clean’ the dirt side by driver over it.

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