Electric open-wheel racing series Formula E is set to get rid of its unpopular qualifying format ahead of the beginning of the 2021-22 season — pending approval from the FIA World Motor Sport Council, of course.
Since the 2018-19 season, FE has used a group qualifying system the splits drivers into qualifying groups composed of six competitors that are separated in descending championship order — and essentially punished those leading drivers by sticking them in the qualifying session with the worst track conditions. The intention was to keep the championship battle unpredictable, which it absolutely did. But the whole “punishing good drivers” and “contrived competition” thing was pretty unpopular among drivers and fans. Prior to that, qualifying groups were chosen at random.
Now, series co-founder and chief championship officer Alberto Longo wants to introduce a knock-out tournament style qualifying session that will still keep things interesting while also making quali much easier to understand.
In this new format, FE will take inspiration from IndyCar’s road course qualifying by splitting drivers into two different groups and having certain drivers advance to other qualifying sessions. But that’s where the similarities stop.
The four fastest drivers in both of those two qualifying sessions will move onto a quarter-final round. That will consist of four one-on-one races that pit two drivers against one another. The winners of those four quarter-finals will move onto two semi-finals. The winner of the semi-finals will move on to the final round, where the two fastest drivers will duke it out for pole.
At first glance, this doesn’t necessarily sound like it will be easier to understand, but it does provide for a little more natural competition that FE is capitalizing on. It’s kind of a bracket-like format for those of you who watch ball sports.
“We’ve gone back to basics, but we also like to be innovative,” Longo said. “This format is very understandable because everyone understands a tennis tournament finals draw. Visually it is very attractive and on television we will offer something spectacular.
“The key is in the first two groups of 11 drivers each, the drivers will have the opportunity to do several fast laps during the 12 minutes that qualifying will last. After that we will define the four fastest in each group.
“In the quarter-final round, the fastest from group one will face off against the fourth placed driver from group two and so on.
“From there, we will move on to the semi-final and the two finalists. Whoever wins that duel will be the polesitter.”
It’ll likely take some time to get used to the format, but it does admittedly sound more promising than — albeit about as confusing as — FE’s current format. We’ll have to see what the FIA council has to say about the idea.