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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

48 comments on “Which qualifying system is best? (Poll)”

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  1. Jonesracing82
    4th December 2008, 6:20

    i voited the old 12 lap/1 hour system! as the fastest car and driver on that day has pole!
    cannot b easier to understand!
    yer, occasionally no cars would go out at start of seassion but that levels out with most cars on track late in the session on a do or die lap!
    current system is ok bar q3 with fuel!
    isnt quali meant to be about who is fastest………..?

    1. Definately the 12 lap system. This was my fav all along. It is simple and easy. Although I am sure FOTA will refine their idea and it will be used. Either way I am just glad fuel will not play a part.

  2. 1996-2002 for me, although I do think the current system would be almost as good if they just scrap the race-fuel aspect altogether.

  3. I like the current system very much, but the issue of race fuel should be changed. I can see some merit in what Heikki is saying about McLaren’s fuel plans for each race this season and how they seemingly forced him into a No. 2 role as a result.

    Aside from that, I have always wondered what is displayed on those TV screens the drivers have in front of them while they are in the garage, as Alonso has in this picture at the top of the article- can anyone give me some insight on that?

  4. It’s largely the same FOM feed that we see. They can also look at the live timing and scoring screen – the same one that’s available for us.

  5. -edit-

    Paul beat me to it, lol.

  6. I like the 2008 system. 1996-2002 would severely disadvantage smaller teams.

  7. I think we are having this discussion only because Bernie Ecclestone decided he could earn more advertising revenue from broadcasting qualifying, when in fact the purpose of qualifying is simply to line up the cars in a reasonable manner for the race start. The best method is to give everybody as much time as possible, so drivers can try again and again. The hot laps should represent the absolute limits of each car. It would also eliminate excuses for not getting a clear track. Sure, it’s bad for live television, but what’s wrong with making it a highlights show if you want it televised at all?

  8. OK. I’m old school and prefered the ‘one strike and you are out’ system of 2005, no matter what the weather conditions are – if you are a good enough driver, no matter what car you are in, you will get the fastest lap. But make it with Qualifying fuel only, and the cars can be seen at their full potential. The drivers must be allowed a Qualifying set up if required, different to their Racing set up. Qualifying in the reverse order of the finish of the last race.
    That means all the cars are seen, all the cars go fast and all the drivers have an equal chance – the better the driver the better the result.
    This might lead to drivers becoming Qualifying specialists, but then it would be up to the team to help them hold position against the ‘Racers’ on Sunday.

    1. I’ve never agreed to having more than one car on the circuit at a time. One lap,and any amount of fuel.Go for broke.ala 2005

  9. I think one of the advantages of the current knockout system is that during Q1, position 15 is something worth fighting for. The same concept applies for Q2. It gives the smaller teams a bit more coverage, and dividing qualifying into three different parts gives the session a level of interest throughout most of the hour. I don’t think you’re ever going to find a qualifying system that suits everyone, but the one they have now might be as close as they’re going to get. Why bother changing it?

  10. DG, that is exactly how I would have qualifying.

  11. Amazing isn’t it, six formats, one proposal and six years on, and we still prefer the old one hour, 12 lap system.

    I didn’t even mind that sometimes the first half could be pretty quiet, because it often meant twice the action in the second half. Knock-out qualifying has had some great climaxes to the session, but they were frequently more exciting with the 96-02 system.

  12. None of the options are the best alternative. We should have a 1-hour qualifying session without restrictions to the engines, tyres and laps and without the post-qualifying parc fermé.

  13. Current system is fine, as Keith states eliminate the race fuel proviso and let them go as light as possible in Q3, adding fuel to suit their race strategies.

    That satisfies fastest car on pole concerns as well as a “Show” for media.

  14. I had to confess to quite liking the one lap, single car system – you get to see every lap, each driver gets one shot, do or die. There was also no wait for the on track action to start and it negated any problems with traffic.

    It did have its downsides, of course. Qualifying with race fuel often meant unusual grids and you didn’t get to see the cars at the very limit of their performance. There were also sessions that were disrupted by rain or improving/deteriorating conditions, which skewed things somewhat (although that sometimes happened with the pre-2003 systems).

    For me, its main advantage was attention focussed on each car being driven in anger over a single lap. You got to see who’d made a mistake, which cars looked like a handful, who’d made an amazing save, who’d not. It’s arguably less “pure” than a free sixty minute session but probably more fulfilling for the casual spectator with some added appeal for the dedicated fan.

    I’m not convinced that FOTA’s proposed new system will be a change for the better. It’s enormously complicated, could be very difficult to follow (on TV and in the flesh) and will lead to drivers being blocked by slower cars (and a resulting mini-industry of penalties). It could reward drivers who are consistent rather than out and out quick over a single lap – Jarno Trulli must be very nervous.

  15. It’s not as bad as the aggregate qualifying nonsense of 2005, but it’s not far off.

    I think it’s far worse. It seems like something they stole off of NASCAR. In fact, it’s hard to think of a worse qualifying system that doesn’t involve picking numbers out of a hat.

  16. I think the current qualifying format is fine, but they should advertise fuel loads prior to going into Q3. Speculating about fuel loads is boring. Being able to appreciate a good qualifying run at given fuel load would be great.

  17. You needed to add an option on the poll for the 2008 with the every popular proposal of removing racing fuel from Q3. In my opinion it’s the only change that needs to be made and is the most exciting and entertaining way to do qualifying out of all the options.

  18. I never understood what was wrong with the old pre-1996 system, or the 1996-2002 system, other than that pole-winning laps would sometimes not be on the screen. If the latter is the major criterium, I’d vote for either the 2003 single lap qualifying, though without race fuel, or the current system, also without race fuel.

  19. Current system with low fuel in Q3 would be my choice. No it’s not ideal, but then I don’t think any system would be short of letting each car do 4 runs with the whole track to themselves. Let’s see 20 cars, 4 runs = 12 laps, let’s take an average laptime of 1:20 = 80 seconds, so we have 80x12x20 = 19,200 seconds or 5 hours 20 minutes!

    5 hours 20 minutes, what’s wrong with that??

  20. The present qualifying system is best , only thing I would change is the elimination of race fuel rule in Q3. I guess it’s there only to create a feeling of anticipation on race day , as to who is running light etc. but as we have seen , most the front runners end up on very similar strategy , which is the optimal one , not to mention the biggest plus would be that the fight for pole would be a true reflection of the fastest car/driver combination.
    And with the cars now being so closely matched , they usually pit within one lap of each other anyway.
    Losing the race fuel rule would also add extra excitement because some cars that are very fast on low fuel , behave very differently when fuelled heavier.

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