Which qualifying system is best? (Poll)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The unloved aggregate qualifying system was last used at Monaco in 2005
The unloved aggregate qualifying system was last used at Monaco in 2005

F1 has introduced a new qualifying system at least once per season since 2003.

Although the current qualifying system is quite popular the Formula One Teams’ Association is discussing more changes today.

Is their proposal any better than the ones that have gone before? Do we really need another qualifying system? Vote below.

Here’s a brief summary of the qualifying systems used by Formula 1 over the last two decades:

Pre-1996

Two sessions, one on Friday and one on Saturday. No fuel restrictions, fastest time sets the grid order.

Pros: ‘Proper’ qualifying with no fuel restrictions.
Cons: Little action in wet sessions, poor timing for television.

1996-2002

A single, one-hour session on Saturdays in which drivers have a maximum of 12 laps to set their best time.

Pros: ‘Proper’ qualifying with no fuel restrictions, better suited to television.
Cons: Often long periods of no cars going on track, smaller teams generally ignored by television directors and sometimes the pole position lap would be missed by the cameras.

2003

Two sessions: low-fuel running on Fridays (which determines running order for Saturday and is essentially meaningless), race fuel on Saturdays, one lap per drive. Making drivers qualify with their race fuel loads is an innovation aimed at making races less predictable.

Pros: Every driver’s lap is seen by the cameras.
Cons: Race fuel load determines qualifying position, making qualifying less meaningful and less exciting.

2004

The two sessions seen in 2003 are both run on Saturdays.

Pros: Every driver’s lap is seen by the cameras, but most broadcasters only show the second session live.
Cons: Some drivers deliberately spin or drive slowly in first session to gain preferred slot for second session, and race fuel load still determines qualifying position.

2005

Low-fuel qualifying on Saturday, race-fuel qualifying on Sunday morning, with both lap times added together to give overall aggregate position.

Pros: None apparent.
Cons: Dreadfully unpopular – delays formation of grid, Saturdays lack any excitement as they do not decide the final running order, and race fuel load still plays a large role in deciding the grid. Dropped after six races.

2005 (take 2)

Single race-fuel qualifying lap on Saturday set in order of finishing position in final race.

Pros: An improvement over the previous version (but pulling numbers out of a hat would have been)
Cons: Race fuel load still strongly influences qualifying position, and drivers who retire early in one race find themselves seriously disadvantaged in qualifying for the next.

2006-2007

The first version of the present three-part system is introduced. Drivers in Q3 must start the race with the fuel load they qualify with. They also receive a set quantity of fuel back per lap done in Q3 providing it is within a certain percentage of the pole position lap time.

Pros: Knockout system adds excitement and variety.
Cons: Race fuel load determines qualifying position for the top ten. Fuel credit system is very complicated. Drivers in Q3 spend many laps purposefully ‘burning fuel’ which, as well as sending out a poor environmental message, looks ridiculous.

2008

As 2006-2007 but drivers are no longer allowed to add fuel after Q3, solving the ‘fuel burn’ problem.

Pros: First two parts of qualifying remain exciting.
Cons: The final part of qualifying becomes more about who’s carrying the most fuel than who’s on pole.

FOTA’s 2009 proposal

Every car goes out on track and are eliminated in turn with the slowest driver on each lap being knocked out. The final runners then enter a fastest lap shoot-out to decide the pole sitter, while carrying their race fuel loads.

Pros: It’s not been tried yet so it could be a better idea than it sounds.
Cons: This is a fundamental change in the principle of qualifying: it no longer becomes about doing one great, fast lap, it becomes about avoiding doing a slow lap, which seems a less entertaining prospect. There is massive potential for complaints about drivers blocking each other. And race fuel loads would still determine qualifying positions for the top drivers.

Which is the best qualifying system?

Which is the best qualifying system?

  • Pre-1996 - Friday and Saturday sessions (7%)
  • 1996-2002 - Single Saturday session, 12 laps (37%)
  • 2003 - Friday and Saturday sessions with race fuel (1%)
  • 2004 - Double Saturday sessions with race fuel (0%)
  • 2005 - Saturday and Sunday aggregate qualifying with race fuel (0%)
  • 2005 (take 2) - Single lap with race fuel (3%)
  • 2006-2007 - Three-round qualifying with race fuel and fuel burn (1%)
  • 2008 - Three-round qualifying with race fuel (no fuel burn) (41%)
  • 2009 - FOTA 'knockout' proposal (9%)

Total Voters: 422

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How did I vote?

The more I think about it, the more I dislike FOTA’s proposal. It’s not as bad as the aggregate qualifying nonsense of 2005, but it’s not far off. Above all, it’s change for change’s sake with no clear rationale behind it.

I think the present system is basically fine, although having the top drivers qualify with their race fuel loads is a fundamental flaw. Race fuel qualifying was introduced in 2003 in the hope it would lead to varied strategies and unpredictable racing, but it has totally failed to achieve this.

One-lap qualifying systems are good in principle for TV but suffer two weaknesses: varying weather conditions during a session can spoil them, and it’s difficult to arrive at a fair system for deciding what order drivers should qualify in.

I prefer the 12-lap system because it is proper qualifying: the fastest driver on a light tank of fuel gets the best starting position.

It did have the problem that some drivers would not go on track in the first half-hour: that could very easily be solved by spitting the session into four quarters and requiring each driver to set a time in each part. A1 Grand Prix does the same, and it has the added bonus of factoring in time for television channels to screen advertising breaks.

I think that’s a much more simple, sensible and potentially exciting solution than the mess FOTA has come up with. Which solution do you prefer?

Read more: F1 gets 8th qualifying change since 2003