Top ten… Reasons race fuel qualifying must go

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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22 comments on Top ten… Reasons race fuel qualifying must go

  1. I don’t know anyone who watches F1 and would disagree with what you have set out above.

    Racing used to be exciting, then that got dull but we still had an exciting qualifying session to look forward to during the race weekend – now the whole lot is pretty dull!

    If you aren’t supporting a driver for a top team then the only excitement you get is seeing whether he makes it through Q1 and then maybe even Q2 if he’s lucky. Then generally speaking you know what the top 10 on the grid is going to be before Q3 has even started.

    To the FIA, make the teams declare their fuel for the race prior to qualifying but please don’t make them run with the full racefuel during qualifying.

  2. Robert McKay said on 20th September 2007, 10:00

    “… which F1 bosses are considering changing for next year.”

    I think they have considered it, and still fudged it up. I think the plan is to shorten the time a bit, so less laps to burn fuel, and dispense with the fuel credits, so what you use is gone and not coming back. But it will still be quali with fuel in, which as you say is not pure at all. It’s a shame, because Q3 is a bit of an anticlimax in an otherwise not-too-shabby quali system.

  3. nellyweb said on 20th September 2007, 10:07

    I completely agree. Martin Brundle has always said that the teams should be able to simply tell the race stewards what their race fuel will be, and then qualify with the lightest load possible. It’s got to the stage now where the second phase of qualy is the most exciting, especially as the top drivers now seem to want to show off their pace before they have to load up the car with fuel.

    In reality though, nothing used to beat the last 5 minutes of the old style one hour/12 laps qualifying. If I were in charge, I would just give them 45 minutes, unlimited laps to make an attempt, and no nominating race fuel so teams can then build a strategy based on their grid slot. Why on earth this isn’t what the teams and drivers aren’t pushing for I do not know.

    After all, we’ve seen all sorts of stellar drives in qualy 2 with drivers getting well into the top 10 on low fuel, only to drop down into 10th place under fuel burn.

  4. Hamilton fan said on 20th September 2007, 10:17

    couldnt agree with you more the best system was the old 1 hour 12 laps quickest lap wins pole. Thats the way it should be, i dont think iv seen many exciting quali sessions since it came in! i really hope they change it, back to basics i think is the way forward for f1, they’ve tried changing everything in recent years but i think it has if anything made things worse, and it all started when ferrari dominated 2002, ok it got a bit boring and i cant disagree with that, but its up to the teams to make quick car, thats the idea of formula 1, theres so many rules these days its ridiculous. now we have drivers on pole when they aint even the fastest driver in qualifying it makes a joke of all the records set in years gone by!

    The circuits in f1 arent the problem either, theres little overtaking because of the aerodynamics of the cars, scrap all these and we’d be back to how it was 10 years ago when it was still possible.

    I think theres a simple solution, Bring 1 hour qualifying back, and scrap all the aerodynamic stuff.

  5. Robert McKay said on 20th September 2007, 11:48

    1 hour yes, 12 laps no. There’s too much time for 12 laps. If an average outlaps is 2 minutes and a hotlap is 90 seconds then 4 runs takes less than 25 minutes. and since the track is best at the end, then you have a lot of waiting around looking at empty tracks. You can even see now in the Q1/Q2 sessions that with one,two runs maximum they are being timed to start their lap as the timer runs out, so even in 15 minute sessions there’s still a third of that being “dead” time at the start.

    1 hour, unlimited laps might be better, or a 45 minute session with 12 laps maybe. I don’t like the 1 run in each 15 minutes idea for the same reasons as Q1/Q2 above being dead at the start and too hectic for the director to keep up at the end.

    And if you really wanted to be interesting give them X sets of tyres for practice/quali/race as they do now, and a couple of sets of qualifiers a la MotoGP. Then it’s still the fastest person on pole, but because they did it on qualifying tyres they might not be the fastest on race tyres, and make for good qualifying and racing maybe. Oh, and bring back Sunday morning warmup, so that drivers can have a better chance of understanding whats underneath them as opposed to relying on a setup that was decided more than 24 hours ago in different conditions. If the drivers are confident with their setup they can push and attack more I reckon.

  6. Tommy B said on 20th September 2007, 12:19

    I just don’t get why the last session is the same as all the others, light fuel, going for pole then just let the teams put their fuel in at the end of session!

  7. they brought in the fuel burning so cars would be on track, as they else would wait for the last second of qualy.
    I think the format now is nice with it’s 3stages. Except for the fuel.
    Just give them 5minutes less maybe … and no fuel **** with it.
    And yes bring back the warm-up. So ppl can tweak the car and maybe find that bit of time for the race! This is the essence of Racing.
    If things don’t change here I will only see fridays and saturdays and stay home on sunday!

  8. nellyweb said on 20th September 2007, 14:17

    Frankly, while we are at it, lets have super sticky slick tyres, one race special engines (heck, qualifying specials even), no race penalties for engine blowups

  9. Nelly is me darlin’. :) Agreed totally, Nelly.

  10. Mmm, qualifying engines – sounds good, but not the best from a cost-cutting point-of-view :p

    But hang the expense, let’s go for it! :D

  11. I think you made a perfect point about fuel burn… not only environmentally wrong, but a waste of time and money while they are deeply concerned with costs reduction.
    About the ideal system, I agree with SoLiD, the Q1/Q2/Q3 is fine, without the fuel burn. That would make qualifying entertaining for all supporters and still allow the fastest driver to be on pole.
    And if they don’t want overnight strategy changes, perhaps the drivers could fuel after the last session, just like Tommy said, and then go to parc fermé.

  12. William Wilgus said on 21st September 2007, 1:29

    There’s not much doubt that the final few minutes of the old qualifying system were rather exciting. Unfortunately and because of the heavy traffic, there was always a bit of luck involved in getting a clear fast lap.

    It seems that getting a clear lap in Quali 3 can also be a problem; therefore I’d like to see a Quali 4 for the top positions. And of course, a big no to fuel burning. I’d like to see no refueling during qualifying and no restrictions on how much fuel you can start the race with.

    Off topic, I’d like to see the rule that you have to use both types of tire during the race dropped. I can’t see what it accomplishes.

  13. Eric M. said on 21st September 2007, 3:38

    I’ll just be happy when they can settle on a system of qualifying and stick with it for more than one season! But everyone knows that the old way was better. It was simple and easy to follow, and usually fun to watch.

  14. Nathan Jones said on 21st September 2007, 9:10

    quali is simple about seeing who is the quickest guy!
    Senna wouldnt like it at all!
    i like the new system aside from q3 cos of fuel but miss the old 12-lap 1 hr session

  15. It also makes it harder for the small teams to do anything special – in the past we had drivers for small teams getting everything right for one perfect lap and ending up at the sharp end. Can’t happen now – they have to do it two or three times, which doesn’t happen.

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