Formula One has been trying to fix the one part of the sport that isn’t totally broken this year — qualifying. I have been a fan of F1's three-stage knock-out qualifying system for years, and some seasons have certainly entailed an even more entertaining Saturday event than the actual race on Sunday. In an effort to switch things up, the series is going to introduce a new method of setting the grid, a 62-mile sprint race on Saturday with three World Championship points delivered to the winner, in addition to pole position.
In an effort to get drivers to treat the Saturday event as a true race event, rather than sandbagging or skipping out on it, points will also be paid to second and third positions, receiving 2 points and 1 point respectively. An earlier version of the proposal called for points paid all the way back to 8th, but that was later scrapped in favor of a more modest number.
To set the grid for the qualifying race on Saturday, Friday’s festivities will now include a qualifying session with teams allowed five sets of tires in order to set a time. Yes, you have to qualify for the qualifying. It’s a bizarre and backwards world we live in.
“We are excited by this new opportunity that will bring our fans an even more engaging race weekend in 2021,” F1 President and CEO Stefano Domenicali said. “Seeing the drivers battling it out over three days will be an amazing experience, and I am sure the drivers will relish the fight. I am delighted that all the teams supported this plan, and it is a testament to our united efforts to continue to engage our fans in new ways while ensuring we remain committed to the heritage and meritocracy of our sport.”
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This format will be given a trial at two European-based GPs and one non-European race this season, though F1 has not committed to which events will have it.
The weekend format will include a new Parc Ferme condition rule, which goes into place as soon as Friday’s qualification session begins. Friday will still have a traditional one-hour free practice in the morning. Saturday morning will kick off with a one-hour free practice two session, but teams will only be allowed one set of tires for this session to reduce weekend running costs.
The Saturday afternoon qualification race will allow teams to use up to two sets of tires to complete the 100 kilometer event, but pit stops will not be compulsory, and DRS will be enabled.
While I definitely subscribe to the mantra that if it isn’t broken, it doesn’t need to be fixed, hopefully this will allow for some interesting outcomes leading into the Sunday race. Will it allow any of the smaller teams to compete? Maybe not. But it will definitely allow some teams to take a flyer on an odd strategy call and hope it pays off.