Is it time to bring back qualifying tyres?

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Ayrton Senna, McLaren, 1991

Ayrton Senna set pole eight times in 1991, the last year with qualifying tyres

During the last race weekend, Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery revealed they were talking to teams about bringing back qualifiyng tyres.

The one-lap specials, super-sticky rubber designed for use in qualifying, haven’t been seen since Pirelli’s last appearance in F1 two decades ago.

Is now the time to bring them back? Or are the practical problems of having qualifying tyres too great to overcome?


There’s a lot to like about Pirelli’s plan to reintroduce qualifying tyres in F1.

They would give drivers a burst of extra performance in qualifying – in the knowledge that a single mistake could cost them several places on the grid.

We saw some terrific upsets and fascinating races thanks to qualifying tyres in the past. Remember Pierluigi Martini putting his Minardi on the front row of the grid for the 1990 United States Grand Prix?

Nigel Mansell’s thrilling and improbable victory from 12th on the grid at the Hungaroring in 1989 was born from his difficulties getting the most out of the qualifying tyres and focussing on his race set-up instead.

There’s potentially an added bonus: the rule forcing the top ten drivers to start the race on the tyres they qualified on would have to be scrapped. This has proved a worthless and unnecessary rule, and F1 would be better off without it.


Hembery indicated he would like to make the tyres available for all three stages of qualifying without increasing the number of tyres it brings to a race weekend. This is not going to be easy to achieve, and could compromise the amount of running done throughout the rest of a race weekend.

For example, teams only have three sets of tyres for three hours of running on Friday, and it’s hard to see how that could be reduced.

There may be scope to reduce the number of harder tyres provided for races but there’s precious little wiggle room in this area of the rules.

Qualifying tyres are associated with some bad memories, notably Gilles Villeneuve’s fatal accident in 1982 as reader Ted Bell argued in a recent Comment of the Day.

I say

Stefano Modena, Brabham, 1990

Stefano Modena drives with a fresh set of sticky Pirellis in 1990

Qualifying tyres means spectacular flying laps, greater variation in qualifying performances and a tougher challenge for the drivers. All of that sounds very appealing.

I also like the idea suggested by a fan and taken up by Hembery to colour the tyres purple to match the fastest sectors on the timing screens.

I do not believe they would make qualifying any more dangerous than it is at present.

We already have circumstances where faster cars catch slower ones in qualifying, but advances in radio technology mean both drivers are more likely to be aware of the situation. Almost three decades have passed since Villeneuve’s tragic accident and car and track safety has moved on enormously in that time.

But a lot of thought needs to be put into how qualifying tyres would work within the current framework and tyre restrictions. Would it turn Q3 into eight minutes of tedium followed by two minutes of action in which we can only see one complete lap?

You say

Do you want to see qualifying tyres back in F1? Cast your vote and have your say below.

Should qualifying tyres be reintroduced in F1?

  • Yes (71%)
  • No (22%)
  • No opinion (7%)

Total Voters: 281

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134 comments on Is it time to bring back qualifying tyres?

  1. steco (@steco) said on 15th August 2011, 11:56

    I reckon its a lot of hassle, teams will have to get like 6-8 sets of quali tyres per driver, to evaluate them during friday and find propa setting, so that at least 1-2? if quali tyres are gonna last 1 lap the teams can do really much to understad compound. secondly for quali themselves, Q1 1-2sets, Q2 same, Q3 the same. even if only Q3 is gonna to be run on those supreme tyres, then what? you gonna give them to drivers after Q2 or you gonna quess who is going 2 b in q3? or plenty sets will be delivered to teams for quali, used in q3 and rest will go to scrap after that? such a soft compound is very fragile and will lose their preperties before next GP weekend. lots of costs, lots of hassle, and for what? 1sec quicker PP for most likely the same driver? it just doesnt make sense at all if u think about it deeply.

  2. Girts (@girts) said on 15th August 2011, 12:09

    I voted yes. I like the idea; however, there are some ifs and buts.

    1) I would like to see a real battle in the qualifying session, without any strategic considerations concerning the race day like some drivers saving the tyres for Sunday or having to make a choice between the hard tyres and the soft ones in Q3. However, there would anyway be a choice between a set-up, which suits qualifying better and the perfect race set-up so the strategic part wouldn’t disappear completely.

    2) The 107% rule would need to be reviewed. Now there are times when the slowest cars can set a time within the 107% barrier just because they use quicker tyres and the same qualifying tyres for all would take away this advantage. HRTs and Virgins are not so slow that they would be a danger for the other cars so there is no reason to push them out by applying new rules.

    3) The qualifying tyre should be made so that it reaches its peak after, let’s say, some 4 laps and doesn’t “fall off the cliff” imediately after that so that we see the cars doing more than just one hot lap in each of three sessions.

  3. BasCB (@bascb) said on 15th August 2011, 12:11

    I must say I really like the Idea of it to have drivers getting in superb qualli laps again. And I like the Idea of having qualifying tyres for (part of) qualifying, even if it is not the simplest nor cheapest solution to the “problem” of having cars choose not to run to save race tyres.

    But I am pretty much unsure if this proposal will actually help that, or worsen it.

    currently they have a total of what 9 sets per car? 3 of those are only for FP, that leaves 6 for quali and the race (not counting wets/inters). Currently top teams use 1 set of the harders and 2-3 sets of the softer tyres in qualli. If Pirelli gave teams Q tyres it would mean 1-3 extra sets of tyres. So would the top qualifyers have less tyres left for the race?

    Lets have a try at the totals, assuming Pirelli means bringing the same amount of tyres for a weekend, not for each team.
    Currently we have 9 x 24 cars = 216 sets (again ex. wets/inters). Of that currently cars can use 3 sets in FP (72 sets), Pirelli would provide 51 sets of Q tyres, means we are left with 69 sets for the race, which means some cars can do only 2 stops (at 3.875 sets/car) for lack of tyres, again hinting at the top qualifyers being penalized with less tyres.
    Possibly it gives you the option to use this set instead of one of the others by choise? Would it mean we have less softer tyres for the race and are more likely to see cars having to use the harder tyres for a longer time.

    Maybe I am wrong with the amount of tyres, or Pirelli does not really want to bring them for all Q sessions, but its hard to balance.

    And even if Pirelli would bring them for Q3 only, would it mean we get only one attemtp by everyone? I liked races where we saw 2 one lap runs by some, others dong only one longer stint with 2-3 timed laps and a few doing only a stint at the start or finish.

    A lot of questions, I will refrain from voting for a while to really thing it over, or possibly vote No Opinion, if I cant come to a conclusion.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 15th August 2011, 12:30

      Maybe the solution is to bring 1 set of qualifiers for each car? So the backmarkers would have a chance to get into Q2. But that would mean the likes of STR, FI, Williams and Sauber having to use them in Q1 as well. In And then Massa, Mercedes etc, using all of them only for Q1 or maybe for Q2 latest and still have no tyres for Q3 left.

      So it really would only make sense to use them in Q3.

  4. It would only work in conjunction with removing parc fermĂ© rules and bringing back the sunday morning warmup. That’s the only way you’ll get to see amazing laps with cars scraping the ground and falling to bits as soon as they cross the line.

    But that’s a whole load of extra cost and complications. And we’ve seen it all already. What we have now seems to work. Why change it?

  5. I’d love to see quali tyres, there are a lot more pro’s then con’s in my view. However, I feel under the current three session qualifying system, it would not work as you would need at least three sets of tyres for each car.

    What I’d prefer to see is a return of the tyre war. Being a relatively young F1 fan, some of my best memories of the sport are of Michelin shod Willams and McLaren cars going head to head with the Bridgestone Ferrari’s. I know it was expensive, but I would much prefer this to control tyres. It gives extra unpredictability, as the tyres are not identical like they are today.

    Anyone else agree?

    • Girts (@girts) said on 15th August 2011, 12:33

      I agree with you, different tyres would only add to the spectacle but the problem is that a tyre war is really very expensive so I think it is unlikely to happen, given the current economic environment. Giving an additional couple of sets of tyres for each driver sounds like a more realistic solution.

      By the way, I would like to see not only a ‘tyre war’ but a real ‘engine war’ as well. But that is even more impossible because of the same financial reasons.

    • Damon (@damon) said on 15th August 2011, 12:35

      Totally disagree. The tyre war was ruining the sport.
      It was just killing the competition, when one tyre brand was significantly faster than the other.
      One race you suddenly saw Ferraris trailing 2sec behind McLaren only because the track didn’t suit their tyres, and there was nothing they could do about it. And e.g. when it was raining you knew half of the field is gonna be very slow and not able to compete, because their wet tyres were crap compared to the other brand’s tyres, and driver’s skill couldn’t make up for it (if you had a slow car on top of that in the first place).

      I don’t like the quali tyres idea at all.
      I simply don’t enjoy watching a race where the cars are 10 seconds slower per lap than they were in the qualifying.
      The races then feel somewhat reluctant.

      • Damon (@damon) said on 15th August 2011, 12:44

        I the last sentence I meant “The races then feel somewhat REDUNDANT.”

        I agree with you, different tyres would only add to the spectacle

        I’ve watched F1 with tyre wars, and no – it didn’t add to the spectacle.

        With single tyre manufacturer, we’ve got the machine vs. machine battle, and the driver vs. driver battle. Even though the cars make a difference, we’re able to recognize impressive driver performance.

        But with different tyres, you don’t even know which team has the fastest car, because the tyres ruin the comparison.

        I remember back in the Good Year/Bridgestone rivalry, it wasn’t even clear who had the most powerful engine – even though you had the top speeds, because one of the tyres were more aerodynamic (produced less drag). This blurred everything and make it a less exciting experience for the fans.

        • I think that a car’s performance always depends on many factors so it is often hard to say for sure, which component has made it quick or slow. For instance, we cannot be sure exactly how good Renault’s engine is and whether it helps Red Bull to be in the front or if RBR would be even quicker with a Mercedes engine. There are four different engine manufacturers in F1 now so why couldn’t we have two different tyre manufacturers?

          • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 15th August 2011, 14:01

            Actually I’m pretty sure Red Bull do better because of their Renault than if they had a Mercedes. The Renault is good on fuel and good on traction, couple that with Red Bull’s downforce and you have a car which is good in all kinds of corners. It’s only a few times a year their straight-line speed lets them down and that’s less to do with their engine than their chassis.

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 15th August 2011, 12:42

      I’ve gone from all-Goodyear, to Goodyear-Bridgestone, Bridgestone-only (twice) and Bridgestone-Michelin.

      Personally I don’t think any tyre era has been as good as this one has the potential to be. Apart from all the gimmick rules, what I’d love to see most is tyres that fall apart proportionately to how hard you work them, with an advantage in using multiple sets rather than saving them. These races are great but eventually they’ll become the norm and it’s good to keep things fresh!

  6. I’ve seen this format used for qualifying in another series (I think it was the Superleague Formula) and quite liked the idea of it.

    At the start of qualifying, drivers are randomly assigned, in equal numbers to either Pot 1 or Pot 2.

    Pot 1 drives first and set the fastest times they can.

    Pot 2 drives second and set the fastest times they can.

    The fastest driver overall (regardless of ‘Pot’) starts on Pole, followed by the driver who was fastest in the other pot. 3rd goes to the driver 2nd fastest in the Pole sitters pot.

    I hope I explained that well enough – but that is what i’d like to see. A certain degree of randomness but not so much that it disadvantages the fastest car.

    I realise this has nothing to do with qualifying tyres – but, for the record, I am very much in favour of them!

  7. HANSEL said on 15th August 2011, 12:36


  8. one whole egg said on 15th August 2011, 13:03

    why not save the super soft Qauli tyre’s for q3, then it would not compromise the rest of free practice running and would add a spectacular finally to qualifying?

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 15th August 2011, 13:40

      You would then be handing an advantage to the top 10. Chances are most of the teams outside that top 10 would be using the softest compound available to ensure their best position in Q2, thus reducing their number of fresh pairs. The majority of the top 10 on the other hand probably wouldn’t have used the softer set for their Q2 time and would have a fresh set (or barely touched) available for the race.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 15th August 2011, 15:34

      There is nothing spectacular about laps on super-sticky tyres, unless you want to see a driver crash out by driving beyond the limit. If you want spectacular make them qualify on HARD tyres so they can catch the car when grip fails, nothing like a bit of opposite lock to get your attention.

  9. Yes, but only if they had enough tyres to do two runs per session.

  10. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 15th August 2011, 13:30

    I said no.

    While I do like to see F1 cars go as fast as possible, I also want to see some sort of consistency between qualifying and the race.

    I’m a bit undecided on the ‘top-10 starting on their qualifying tyres’ rule but I would definitely like to see the same compound used in the race without a doubt.

    I enjoy both qualifying and the race for different reasons but I also enjoy having that transparency between the two sessions. I think it makes for great comparison between race pace and fastest qualifying lap and we would most certainly lose that.

  11. Bring it on. Give them 2 sets so they can used on two occasions in the three sessions. If the fastest cars can get through Q1 on supersofts then they’ll save themselves 3 sets for the following two sessions.

    If they can tweak it so they set more qualifying times and it adds to the qualifying spectacle, I’m in.

  12. I’ve being playing devils advocate so far on the issue but this time I’ll say what I really think. I think it’s a good idea as long as A) It doesn’t lead to a lack of tyres per team and B) It’s not just for the sake of the cars going faster.

    What’s the point of doing so the cars go faster? There is none. Half the rules in F1 are to slow them down.

    However. I would like to see them return.

    The problem in bringing them back lies mostly in how qually works nowadays. Give the teams enough sets for all sessions and you just have cars going faster. Mostly it would still be the same. Create excitement by giving them one set each and you compromise peoples ability to compete at the end.

    I just think it would be hard to make it work, and make it fair.

  13. Leftie (@leftie) said on 15th August 2011, 14:03

    Is it really time to bring the qualifying rubber back?
    I’ve done some fairly straightforward calculations on the subject and here’s what i came up with.
    The average difference between dry pole lap and fastest dry race lap this season is 4.603 seconds or 5.1%
    Then i went on to see to stats of last season when qualifying rubber was used – 1991. Back then the average difference between dry pole lap and fastest dry race lap was 5,984 seconds or 5.7%
    I believe in 1991 it was allowed to have a different spec engine for the qualifying and there was no parc ferme rule which meant car could be set up completely different for saturday and sunday.
    Also the fact that the cars were generally slower than nowadays should be considered when looking at the numbers.
    There are also many factors (usage of two compounds during the race and DRS are one of the few) which make my comparisons less accurate, but nevertheless i believe they are worth considering.
    So where are we now? Roughly, we are very close to the difference between Q and R we had in 1991.
    Should Q rubber be introduced to widen the margin between qualifying and race? I’m really not sure. We could end up with margins in lap times that look more like difference between various racing car categories rather than F1 on saturday and F1 on sunday.
    I’m all for improving the show, but i don’t believe than introduction of ultra soft rubber compound is the way to go. There should be tweaks in tire allocation for the weekend and this is a fact, but are qualifying tires is the proper solution?

  14. HoHum (@hohum) said on 15th August 2011, 14:09

    NO, because;
    1; It will add cost for no benefit
    2; It will add work for the team to set up the cars
    3; It will cause the cars to race on a set-up compromised by having to qualify on a totally different tyre
    4; It will add another complication to less experienced teams struggling to get their car to work as designed without sufficient testing.

    YES to a separate allocation of tyres for qualifying.

  15. HounslowBusGarage (@hounslowbusgarage) said on 15th August 2011, 14:17

    Quote from another post.
    “I’d love to see qualifying tires back. An F1 car from 1989-1991 on a full-beans qualifying run”
    Back then they used qualifying engines too. And the teams had full access to the cars after qualifying to rebuild the car, change the engine, suspension and possibly gearbox from a one-lap-special to something that would actually last the race – with all the associated costs and development. Is that what you want? Seriously?

    Another quote from another post.
    “So if they burn out after a driver finishes his lap, it doesn’t matter.” So if they burn out after one lap, the driver goes back to the pits and the cars spend less time on the track. How is that an improvement?

    Qualifying has been exciting almost the entire season and last year too. It’s not broken so don’t try to fix it.
    It’s irrelevant to ponder whether cars should have qualifying tyres for Q1, 2 and 3 or 3 only, and how the 107% rule might be applied if they don’t, and how the Stewards would decide if someone was impeded on their Qualifying tyres, and what the TV time would be filled with if Q3 remains empty until thge last two minutes. It’s all pointless; the drivers try their damnedest on whatever tyres now. Giving them Qualies isn’t going to make them try harder.

    • BBT (@bbt) said on 15th August 2011, 20:38

      Qualifying has been exciting almost the entire season and last year too. It’s not broken so don’t try to fix it.
      Couldn’t be more wrong, Qualifying has been extremely dull, but that is due to RBR and Vettel, the only exception has been Hamilton and Alonso in two rounds and that wasn’t exactly exciting more slightly interesting.
      Qualifying has been over before its even started most of this season (and the end of last), I’m not saying the a Q tyre is the answer but something to stop Q3 being a snooze is needed. Saying its not broken is very wide of the mark, IMO.
      PS I normally agree with you 100% :-)

      • HounslowBusGarage (@hounslowbusgarage) said on 16th August 2011, 8:50

        “PS I normally agree with you 100%”
        That’s because I’m normally 100% right! :)

        I don’t agree with you about qualifying this year or last year. On many ocassions it’s been more fun than the race in my eyes. Any disappointment has probably been generated by the dominance of Red Bull snd their driver whatsisname . . . y’know. Not the Aussie.

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