Qualifying change could have been much worse


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Subject to FIA approval and any sporting director spotting an operational flaw in the plan, qualifying will now become a timed elimination event, a sort of musical chairs whereby the slowest car gets eliminated after a set time – until there is only one car still running. That’s what was decided in the team chiefs meeting yesterday.

So the current plan is:

Q1. After seven of the session’s 16 minutes, the slowest driver is eliminated. Thereafter the slowest driver is eliminated every minute-and-a-half, which will leave 15 cars to go through to Q2.

Q2. After six of the session’s 15 minutes, the slowest is eliminated. Thereafter, every minute-and-a-half the slowest goes out. Leaving eight cars to go to Q3.

Q3. After five of the session’s 14 minutes the slowest begin to be eliminated every minute-and-a-half – until only one driver is left, the pole-winner.

Bernie Ecclestone – in his efforts at trying to gimmick his way out of the competitive stalemate we’ve seen for the last two seasons – is in danger of damaging things further. The new qualifying format is a case in point. This was the team bosses way of preventing Bernie from reversing the grids with his crazy points ballast idea – a compromise to appease him. But it looks to the fans as though F1 is just thrashing about, desperate to change anything because it’s run out of ideas. That’s not the reality, but it’s how it looks.

There are two basic problems here. One is the shared governance between the teams, Bernie and the FIA. It simply doesn’t work, the competing agendas just produce stalemate. It needs an enlightened dictator with the power of the governing body there only to curtail any of his excesses. Two: even if Bernie was given that power back, the causes of the problems he is wrestling with are technical in nature and he’s not grasping their implications. He – or whoever was in the enlightened dictator role – needs someone alongside advising why his latest knee-jerk reaction will not work, getting him to define what he’s trying to achieve, then giving him the solution. Someone who understands racing technicalities.

From the Archive: “The precedent for the president” by Tony Dodgins (February 2010).

Ironically, Bernie is not actually wrong about mixed grids. Just 100% wrong in the way he was trying to achieve it (a time ballast of 4s for the championship leader in qualifying, with a sliding scale back from there – can you imagine how impossible it would have been for viewers to understand how the grid was formed and what part the actual lap time had to do with it?). With the aero the way it is – and even if the aero problems could be fixed – you are never going to get good racing by putting the fastest at the front/slowest at the back. So working back from what you want to achieve on Sunday you need a fair and non-artificial way of mixing up the grid. So here’s what you do (as we’ve suggested before):

Friday: Qualifying for points. Needs an overhaul of the points system, but you get points all the way down to penultimate place on the grid. No Friday practice. Straight into qualifying. Qualifying no longer has anything to do with grid positions though, it’s purely for points and to see the actual natural competitive order.

Saturday: A short sprint race (no points) with a reverse grid of the championship order coming into that weekend (so based on last year’s form, Manors at the front, Mercs at the back). Use teams’ race sims to work out how long that race needs to be (will vary from track to track) to allow the fastest cars to get from the back to somewhere around 5th-8th place*. The only purpose of this race – apart from the great entertainment of seeing Hamilton, Vettel etc come through the field – is to determine the grid for the Grand Prix.

Sunday: The Grand Prix, with the grid the actual finishing order of the sprint race. So the fastest cars will still need to do more passing – but from a grid position where it should still be feasible for them to win.

This way you can do away with all the gimmickry of heat-degrading tyres which at the moment force the drivers not to drive flat-out, and DRS. This way, you are guaranteed lots of actual wheel-to-wheel racing. But the most successful will still be the fastest car/driver combination. This way you see the difference between those who can race and those who can merely drive fast.

From the Archive: “Casting the runes” by Nigel Roebuck (April 2007).

Now, Bernie with his crazy points ballast idea has poisoned the whole concept of mixed grids. Because his particular plan was farcical, any attempt now to introduce what needs to be done – i.e.: mixing up the grids – will be derided.

* This wouldn’t work at Monaco – where the certainty of a different result would just have to be accepted for the benefit of the rest of the season.

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