Drivers back Singapore qualifying tweak as rule changes again for Japanese GP

Formula 1

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Formula 1 drivers supported the FIA’s decision at last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix not to impose a revised rule which had been introduced at the previous round.

However the same rule has been changed again for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

The alteration to the rules followed a series of incidents in recent races and over past seasons where drivers completing flying laps in qualifying encountered other drivers going much more slowly on the track. This has led to several near-misses and prompted warnings a crash could happen unless F1 discourages drivers from congregating at the end of the lap, waiting to start their qualifying runs.

This happens as drivers prepare to begin their flying laps and slow down in order to reduce their tyre temperatures. Depending on the nature of the track, they may also try to gain a tow from a rival car or try to avoid starting their lap too close to another car and being negatively affected by its slipstream. The latter was the key concern in Singapore.

This creates the circumstances where cars travelling very slowly are caught by others completing laps at full speed. In order to minimise the risk of that happening in the previous race at Monza the FIA tweaked its rules.

Ordinarily drivers are prevented from driving too slowly on their return to the pits as they are required to obey a maximum time limit between two points on the track during their in-laps. At Monza the FIA extended that requirement to cover all laps during qualifying. This change was praised by drivers and team representatives who felt it helped minimise the usual traffic problems in qualifying.

In Singapore FIA race director Niels Wittich chose not to enforce the same rule. The first round of qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix came to a messy end as some drivers who were completing their final flying laps encountered a large group of rivals driving much more slowly.

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Before qualifying, some drivers had warned this potentially dangerous scenario was likely following changes to the final sector at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

“It was the same as I expected,” said Zhou Guanyu. The Alfa Romeo driver started his last run early, hoping to avoid the traffic which developed at the end of the lap.

However drivers were not convinced that the decision to withdraw the rules change used at Monza caused the problem which occured in Singapore. Lando Norris said the rule has a place at tracks like Monza where the difference in closing speeds between cars can be extremely high, but didn’t believe it was necessary in Singapore.

“The reasoning for having it was not to limit traffic, but to limit approaching speed differences, especially in Monza,” said the McLaren driver. “In Monza they said the reasoning for it was not to try and sort out traffic and overtaking, but to sort out people going 10kph when you’re going 300 into the last corner.”

The same solution wasn’t necessary in Singapore, said Norris. “You don’t have a massive long straight before the last corner, you have the chicane and the rest of it so therefore that issue is kind of gone a little bit.”

He believes drivers should be left to make their own decisions about whether to risk trying to set their flying laps at the very end of a session in qualifying when the likelihood of encountering traffic becomes higher.

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“If you don’t want this, you can go out five minutes earlier and get on with your lap and do it yourself. But everyone chooses to be in this position, they kind of know it’s going to happen and they just always think they’re going to come out on top and sometimes they don’t.”

Norris, who had a near-miss with Esteban Ocon during qualifying at Monza, defended the decision not to enforce the maximum lap time rule more widely in Singapore. “I think it was a good decision that they made, I think it was better for everyone especially with how hot it is, how to do the cool-down laps and things like that. You can also have a mess if the rule was implemented, it does cause other issues like with me and Ocon in Monza, so I’m happy with what they did.”

Ocon was also pleased the FIA chose not to enforce the rule in Singapore. “It’s Formula 1,” he said. “It would be stupid to get restricted all the time, it’s no problem with safety we are all going quite slow when that happens.

“I support the FIA in the direction they took [last] weekend in not having the [maximum] lap time, I think it’s much better like that. Out-laps are also a part of qualifying that I enjoy to put yourself in the right position to work with the engineers anticipating what can be going ahead, and it’s just in the DNA of qualifying and I enjoy the chaos because that’s also how you get opportunities.”

The FIA has confirmed the rule used at Monza will be in place again for this weekend’s race at Suzuka. As the track includes a slow and narrow chicane at the end of the lap which is approached at high speeds, the governing body appears to have concluded that the approach used at Monza is more suitable for this track layout.

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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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8 comments on “Drivers back Singapore qualifying tweak as rule changes again for Japanese GP”

  1. How about a little tweak to the qualification format instead?
    – Q1a: 10 drivers (randomly selected), 15 minutes, top5 qualifies for Q2
    – Q1b: 10 drivers, 15 minutes, top5 qualifies for Q2
    – Q2: 10 drivers, 15 minutes, pretty much the same as the current Q3

    This way there’s no more than 10 drivers on track at the same time, plenty of room remains for every car, no-one has to pay attention as well to non-flying lap times, neither advantage or disadvantage of being drawn into either group, and it’s not that much of a radical change to the format as the one-lap qualy that was mentioned a few months earlier.

    1. I would still have the two groups in Q1 however those going onto Q2 be selected by time rather than position. That way if the sixth place in Q1a is faster than fifth placed in Q1b they will go through to the next round.

      1. The problem with that is that the second group would be at a hige advantage due to track evolution. Especially somewhere like Singapore, where the track evolution even just in Q1 was enough for a Haas’ final lap to be faster than a Red Bull’s first lap.

        1. *huge

    2. @andrewt Preferably with one driver from each team per segment.

      1. Thank you guys for your inputs regarding this!

        @Gerrit and @RandomMallard: Yes, if laptime is the decisive factor, than this system would be less efficient. However, top5 positions can be achieved with the same chance even if one group runs in dry and the other in wet.

        @jerejj: That’s absolutely a fair option! Otherwise it could happen that for example two Red Bulls and two Ferraris are drawn into the same group, practically leaving only one place available for the others, meanwhile the other group would promote relatively weaker cars. I could live with this solution, but also with a completely random, championship order, championship reverse order, whatever system, simply because chances are the same in both groups.

  2. Bring back single lap quali!

    1. More cons than pros

Comments are closed.