Formula One's New Qualifying System Makes My Brain Hurt

Illustration for article titled Formula Ones New Qualifying System Makes My Brain Hurt

Instead of fixing something that was a significant problem with Formula One, the F1 Commission wants to tinker with their qualifying format. The new, more confusing elimination-based qualifying will still consist of three rounds, but only have two cars left running at the very end. It makes my head hurt.

F1's existing method of qualifying was beautifully simple. It was easy to explain and understand. There are three rounds, the slowest cars got knocked out after each session, and everyone gets lined up on the grid by speed. Boom, done. Keeping it simple made introducing new fans to the sport—something F1 should keep in mind, but apparently doesn’t—a breeze.

Not anymore. Now drivers will be culled during the qualifying sessions themselves, not after each session is complete as they are now. Here’s how this needlessly complicated qualifying system will work, as quoted from Formula One’s official site:


- 16 minutes
- After 7 minutes, slowest driver eliminated
- Slowest driver eliminated every 1 minute 30 seconds thereafter until the chequered flag
- 7 drivers eliminated, 15 progress to Q2


- 15 minutes
- After 6 minutes, slowest driver eliminated
- Slowest driver eliminated every 1 minute 30 seconds thereafter until the chequered flag
- 7 drivers eliminated, 8 progress to Q3


- 14 minutes
- Ater 5 minutes, slowest driver eliminated
- Slowest driver eliminated every 1 minute 30 seconds thereafter until the chequered flag
- 2 drivers left in final 1 minute 30 seconds


Sure, there were lulls in the action with the current three-round knock-out qualifying format, and this new format will encourage teams to send out their cars in that first chunk of each session. As it is now, teams often wait until the last minute to get a good lap in, leaving this awkward period where a few backmarkers would go out early in the name of getting more data to work with, and then a flood of cars would come out at the end.

It’s the flood of cars at the end that made qualifying interesting, though. Teams trying to wait out adverse weather conditions. Teams waiting for rubber to get laid down on the track for better grip. Front-runners running into slower traffic. Waiting on pins and needles to see who will make it through on that last flying lap with a good time. Madness. Chaos. Everything that makes racing exciting.

Culling the field throughout each session only moves the problem of too few cars on track to the end of qualifying itself. Personally, I want to see cars play in traffic and teams strategize their way into laying down the fastest lap. Under the new format, it won’t be hard at all for the last cars on track to lay down a fast lap time with such little traffic, and I have little interest in watching the world’s dullest, most expensive two-car time attack.

Even if I wasn’t trying to work through a concussion, this pointlessly complex change would still make my brain hurt. I simply don’t understand what F1 is trying to accomplish aside from perhaps “be thankful we’re not inverting the grid.”


The F1 Commission unanimously approved the change, which will now go to the FIA World Motor Sport Council next week for final approval and could be implemented as soon as this year.

Given that these are the same folks who thought double-booking a dictator’s “please ignore our human rights record; we have F1" race on Le Mans weekend was A-OK, I don’t exactly have high hopes that they’ll reject this.


Fortunately, there is one important item the F1 Strategy Group and the F1 Commission worked on at their meeting in Geneva this week: improved cockpit protection for drivers. Per the FIA, everyone remains full steam ahead on the idea of getting improved cockpit protection for drivers by 2017, with the “halo” idea remaining popular.

Protecting F1 drivers’ heads better in the car is a change that can’t come quickly enough.


Photo credit: Getty Images

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Sounds like the ultimate ponzhi scheme is prepping itself for a need for speed tie-in. Next year they’ll introduce mid-race police chases.