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  • Writer's pictureDrew Bentham

Is it time to update F1 qualifying?

By Drew Bentham

Alonso claims quali 'obsolete'
Fernando Alonso claims quali is obsolete

After Fernando Alonso recently claimed that the current qualifying format is obsolete for modern F1 cars, it's sparked a raft of articles and talk across the media and raised the question, is it time to update F1 qualifying?. His comments follow after the FIA modified the shootout regulations especially for the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix. Alonso proposed an individual single lap, one shot system whereby drivers had one chance to set a lap. Whilst this would certainly take away the problems of 22 quite large cars on track, it would be boring to watch, which after all is a major part of the sport.

We can all be armchair experts when it comes to things like this and for the most part it doesn't hurt so here goes.

Let's look at some of the current issues. Currently we have a very busy grid all vying for position, the perfect time to go out and the perfect lap. Those cars are all hybrid, requiring the need to charge the system, tires that require usage cycles to squeeze out the performance and sometimes cars out of position. So far all I've seen is a variation on the same theme, which frankly, I believe is the problem.

Red Bull F1 at Singapore F1 GP
Red Bulls out of position after 'shocking' quali performance.

Now I happen to agree with Fernado that change is needed but not with his solution. As I've already said, it would surely be boring to watch so here's my solution. We need to look outside of the Formula 1 box for inspiration. On some races we've had the sprint race and I think this is the future. If the notion of qualifying was to be scrapped in its traditional form, a sprint race could serve in its place. Let me explain...

Teams arrive at a circuit and have 3 practice sessions to dial in the cars and drivers. I think this is important as they don't go from arrival to full beans instantly, they work up to it, building confidence and fine tuning as they go. As a viewer we want to see the best possible performance. Then on the Saturday, a sprint race is run. A 15 minute + 1 lap race, with free tire choice and no tire stops.

So how do you decide the starting order of the sprint? Easy, championship reverse! There I said it.

as is done in rallying, reversing the order would shake up the grid, giving the lower teams a chance to score some points, overtaking would be more important than ever and the result would make the actual race interesting to watch. A whole new scenario for the strategists to consider. This method would both level out the playing field, make the weekends more exciting to watch and make a run away leader much, much harder. With the lower teams scoring more points at the end of the season, they may even have more money for the following years car, making things even closer. We can hope.

There is a problem with this scenario though. For the past few years overtaking has been a problem for the teams as all that dirty air causes over heating and turbulence, the cars are too big and all in all makes for some dangerous overtakes out of desperation.

Because of this the cars would need to be smaller, racier and here's another one, with LESS downforce. I have the same issue with the current WRC machinery. Dial the aero back to clean up the air. Another option is the hybrid system. I have never understood why the cars have this potential extra 80/90 hp which they're only allowed to use a fraction of the time. This is racing, with supposedly the best drivers in the world. Give them it all the time, or at least the maximum available whenever they like. Make using it part of their racing craft rather than just a quick blast down a straight. I want to see imaginative passing in the corners not a motorway breeze by.

Of course, personally I'd just bin the hybrid totally. It's too expensive, too complicated, too heavy and adds an invisible danger in the event of a crash. Go back the ICE only using 100% synthetic/bio fuels and perhaps in time hydrogen fuels. I'm not anti environmental, I just don't think it's the answer.

So there you have it, a brand new approach to a long standing problem, that gives the lower teams a chance and the cream to rise to the top all within an incredible spectacle. It'll never happen....but if it does it was my idea!

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