Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Yas Marina, 2023

Qualifying ‘used to be the best session, now it’s the worst’ – Alonso

Formula 1

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Fernando Alonso says the latest change to Formula 1’s qualifying session proves the current format no longer works.

The Aston Martin driver has criticised the format before and called for the introduction of single-lap qualifying. Following today’s session he said a new rule forbidding drivers from overtaking in the pit exit added yet more complexity to a format he believes is flawed.

The rule is the latest in a series of changes F1 has introduced to prevent dangerous situations developing when drivers on timed runs catch others who are running slowly at the end of a lap waiting to start. This led to the introduction of a maximum time between the pit exit and pit entrance.

During practice yesterday, Max Verstappen overtook several drivers in the pit lane entrance as they tried to build gaps to the cars ahead of them before being bound to the maximum lap time. The stewards introduced the rule barring overtakes at the pit exit to prevent a repeat during qualifying.

Alonso said that “didn’t change much” change much during the session, but said it shows the shortcomings of the F1’s three-part qualifying system, which it has used since 2006.

“It proves that the qualifying format is obsolete,” he said. “We cannot have these things and this stress.

“It used to be the best session of the weekend where the cars come alive, you drive these very fast cars. And now it’s the worst session of the weekend for the teams, for drivers, for traffic management, for track limits, going to the stewards, not respecting the delta, impeding people, deleting the laps.

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“We are all happy that it’s over and it should not be like that.”

He said the need to take greater risks in pursuit of performance, due to how closely matched many of the cars are, adds to the stress of qualifying.

“You’re risking more unfortunately, because there is no way that you can be a bit calmer in one corner and lose one tenth [of a second],” he said. “You cannot afford that any more because you are out of the session.

“So I think it’s very stressful for everyone. Also the track limits is a very painful matter that we go through every every lap. But it’s the same for everybody so we try to execute it better.”

Despite his dissatisfaction with the qualifying format, Alonso was pleased to qualify as high as seventh.

“I was expecting less, actually,” he admitted. “After [final practice], I think we were 14th and 15th. We had some concerns about the pace of the car and the set-up and we were thinking what to do into qualifying.

“Even in Q1 I only went through P13. So I thought it was a tough Saturday for us. But then we followed the track evolution, we got more confidence with the car and then P7 is definitely the best result we were hoping for.”

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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...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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14 comments on “Qualifying ‘used to be the best session, now it’s the worst’ – Alonso”

  1. I can’t really see what his issue is. Is it the traffic? Because I can imagine that that might be bad, but that doesn’t really have to do with the format. Most series have qualifying in a way that had more cars on track at the same time.

    1. the issue for Fernando is that their car is not fast enough in qualifying, so it is no fun to get to the front 2 rows.

      I get that he doesn’t like it, but it’s not the format but the team that has to make the changes.

  2. I greatly enjoy qualifying as it is now. Only rule I’d add is closing the pit exit when there are 2 minutes left, that way I hope there would be less traffic problems.

  3. I really don’t see an issue with qualifying or the rules. You’ve got X minutes to get out on track and set the fastest lap that you can whilst staying on the track. If you wait till there’s 3 minutes left, expect every other team is going to be going out and deal with it.

  4. Having to push to the limit & take risks to find those extra few hundredths of a second is just what qualifying has always been about & why it’s often been the most spectacular session of the weekend.

    Likewise having to deal with traffic has always been a part of it as well & it’s in some ways less of an issue now compared to the past as you don’t have 30+ cars with a field spread of 10+ seconds as used to be the case. Plus you have all the extra timing & tracking data which wasn’t available in the past on top of the advantage of having more coverage in terms of team shaving access to all the onboard cameras as well as the cctv feeds on top of having access to better team radio for teams to keep drivers updated on who’s around them.

    the only nonsense about qualifying currently is the over-regulation from the FIA in terms of the silly & unnecessary minimum time & pit exit rules. and of course the track limit farce which is a bigger issue than just in qualifying.

  5. So what has changed? The rules have been in place for a while. It is just now, the teams are doing it to themselves trying to get that last little bit of performance before the last second of the qually window.
    I say leave the format the same, and let the teams work it out. Besides, the team’s innovation coaches got us into this mess with their desire for every last tenth of a second.

    1. John, “what has changed?” is the important question. One issue seems to be that tracks rubber in more now than I remember from the past, so everyone is going faster in the last two minutes and that probably adds to the congestion issue. When this format was first introduced, I think drivers had to start the race on the tyre they used to set their fastest lap, so it meant there was more of a strategy call, i.e. do we try to get pole on a soft tyre, or do we give up track position in favour of a hard tyre? I think there was also something like that for fuel load as well.

      So yes, there have been some changes which might have contributed to Alonso’s view. Or it could just be that it feels more predictable than it was.

  6. just give them better tyres.

    We only started to see the really slow driving & traffic jams in the final sector when we got these pirelli tyres that have the tiny working range and are so sensitive to overheating so quickly.

    when the operating range of the tyres was a bit wider and when the tyres weren’t as prone to overheating we never saw as much of the out lap super slow driving trying to ensure they didn’t start the lap already too hot.

    and the mandated super high tyre pressures we have had the past number of years also plays a role as the more you push, the higher the tyre temps go which also affects the pressure & that means you start to lose grip part way around the lap.

    better tyres with a wider working range, less temperature sensitivity & lower pressures would likely reduce the need to drive so slowly in the out laps and final sector. i mean just go back and watch qualifying sessions before the tyres became so bad.

    1. Or just watch Indycar qualifying instead. They have tyres not made of cheese, so can pound round hard lap after lap without the tyres falling to bits after a few corners. Doing sustained power drifts and getting lap time out of it. It’s the motorsport dream, but no motorsport fans seem able to see past the F1 mirage.

      F1 recently had its chance of finally break free of Pirelli, and it blew it, and just went for the quick buck of continuing their farce.

    2. It’s not the tyres, though – it’s the way the teams use them.
      They last perfectly well for a dozen laps or more under racing conditions.

      The teams intentionally design, build and setup their cars to exceed the performance of any tyre attached to it. This is not a Pirelli problem, nor even a Target Letter problem. This is a team problem.

      You never saw it before because the teams never found it desirable to operate in this manner.
      Excessive data (both on the tyres and the cars as a whole) in recent years has made it more controllable for them to push this hard.

  7. Of course he doesn’t enjoy it as much as early in the season but that has more to do with AM (lack of) development than the rules.

    Actually it has often been my favorite session this year, the one Verstappen could be challenged or having some teams falling early.

  8. From a driver’s point of view, I remember ex drivers like Couthard saying that qualifying was the best part because you had brand new tyres, low fuel, and pushing flat out for one lap, in a way you could never do in a race. So people saying it is the tyres may well have a point. The softs do not show off the blistering pace of the car.

  9. Billy Rae Flop
    26th November 2023, 1:28

    All of Fernando’s complaints can be attributed to the tyres. I say it again, it is NOT the pinnacle of Motorsports with one of the worst racing tyres. I also agrees with Alonso about track limits. Better tyres would solve most of thos problems and less finance would solve the track limits issue too.

    1. Billy Rae Flop
      26th November 2023, 1:29

      Less dominance*

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