Top ten… Reasons race fuel qualifying must go

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2007 | Daimler ChryslerAfter several years of messing around with qualifying a neat system was devised for 2006 – two knockout sessions would leave the top ten battling for pole position.

But there’s still one problem with the system, which F1 bosses are considering changing for next year.

Making drivers qualify with their race fuel loads makes no sense – and the ‘fuel burn’ laps we see because of that rule are embarrassing. Here’s ten reasons why it’s got to go.

‘Fuel burn’ is a joke

How on earth did this get in? Seriously, who sat down and thought that having ten cars driving around the track with the sole purpose of burning off fuel could ever be an acceptable way of running Grand Prix racing?

It gets slated for not being environmentally friendly, which I can agree with, but even ignoring that it still a complete waste of time.

Ruins the purity of qualifying

What is the point of qualifying? It used to be to set as quick a time as possible so you could start as high up the grid as possible. Now it’s a compromise between setting as quick a time as possible and having a good fuel strategy for the race.

Divides race into top ten (low fuel) and bottom 12 (high fuel)

Earlier in the season David Coulthard made the very astute point that it can be better to start 11th than tenth these days, as the person in 11th can start with a full tank of fuel and the driver in tenth can’t.

On Sundays we increasingly see two different races going on – one among the top ten using a lighter fuel load strategy, and the rest of the cars who started with as much fuel as possible.

Removes excitement from qualifying

Yes, there have been some sessions this year where the times between the top drivers have been very close. But when you don’t know whether that’s down to performance, or a stunning lap by a particular driver, it’s hard to get excited about it.

Has failed to achieve its stated purpose of improving the racing

The point of making drivers qualify with their race fuel loads was because people felt that traditional qualifying meant that cars were lining up in the order of who was quickest and spoiling the racing.

Whether that was true or not in the first place is debatable (I don’t agree it was). But because the drivers towards the front of the grid are now usually the lighter ones, we increasingly see races where the top drivers spread out and never see each other again. The Belgian Grand Prix was a perfect example.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Nurburgring, 2006 | Ferrari MediaRuins the historical record

Ayrton Senna’s record of 65 pole positions was surpassed by Michael Schumacher – but many of his came in the race fuel qualifying era, when he may have taken pole position on occasions simply because his rivals were fuelled more heavily.

It’s become harder to distinguish who are the really great one-lap drivers among those who are usually in the top ten.
No other racing series uses it

Reduces the technical challenge

Drivers and engineers once faced the twin challenge at a race weekend of extracting the best ultimate one-lap pace out of a car, and getting it in good shape for a long race distance.

Now the former challenge is greatly diminished. For the top ten their final lap of qualifying is the first lap of the race.

Makes the top ten of the grid more uniform

With each car locked into its fuel strategy its much harder for a driver in one of the lower teams to jump up the grid order by nailing a perfect lap.

We might occasionally see a low-fuel glory run for pole (Ralf Schumacher at Suzuka in 2005 springs to mind) but that’s hardly a substitute for the kind of inspired lap that put, say, Jenson Button third on the grid at Spa-Francorchamps in 2000, or Anthony Davidson 11th at Istanbul this year.

Makes it too difficult to explain qualifying

Have you ever tried explaining how the final part of qualifying works to someone who isn’t familiar with it? We used to be able to say that qualifying was ‘the bit where they go out to see who can do the fastest lap’.

Now it’s ‘the bit where they all try to set the fastest lap until there’s only ten left they then have to put their race fuel loads on board and set a lap but because they all want to set their qualifying laps with as little fuel as possible they all do a lot of extra laps first to burn off fuel then go into the pits and change tyres and do a fast lap then afterwards they get a lap’s worth of fuel back for every lap they did’.

Photo: Daimler Chrysler | Ferrari Media

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