Analysis: Tension between drivers likely to rise under new 2016 F1 qualifying format
Drivers will be under more pressure in the new qualifying format agreed yesterday by the F1 Strategy Group and F1 commission.
Drivers will be under more pressure in the new qualifying format agreed yesterday by the F1 Strategy Group and F1 commission. But they will also be under pressure from their peers; to avoid blocking each other at the start and end of laps, as anyone can be eliminated at any stage now, if they have not set a fast enough time.
Since F1 switched back from single lap qualifying to the group format of the last few years, there have been incidents of blocking and of drivers backing up at the end of a lap to build a gap to the car in front for a clear run. The FIA stewards are careful to punish drivers who block others on a hot lap. But often in those situations, the aggrieved driver had another chance.
Under the new rules, agreed yesterday in Geneva, the clock is ticking and the slowest drivers will be eliminated every 90 seconds from seven minutes into qualifying onwards. So the chance of a big name being caught out increases and the start of qualifying will be a frenzied free for all as 22 cars try to get a quality 'banker lap' in the bag.
At venues like Monaco this will be especially challenging, but it could happen any time and any venue. It really will be a case of wrong place wrong time, if you get caught out.
How the new format works
Qualifying would continue to be in three parts, but the first part, featuring 22 cars would last just 16 minutes. After seven minutes, the slowest driver is eliminated and then every 90 seconds after that the slowest car would be pulled off the track until the chequered flag, at which point 15 drivers would progress to Q2 and seven would be eliminated.
They would go again for Q2, which last 15 minutes and the same 90 second process of elimination would kick in after six minutes. Then eight drivers would progress to Q3.
This new showcase Q3 event would last 14 minutes, instead of the 10 mins which we used to have to Q3. The elimination system would continue, after five minutes the slowest driver would be called into the pits and eventually just two drivers would be left to fight it out or pole position.
Getting the timing, tyres and fuel load right and nailing the lap will be vital. You don't want to be trying to get multiple laps in and with the ultra soft tyres, which are unlikely to last more than a lap, there will be disparities in pace anyway.
It will make for fast and frenetic action, but the objective is also to mix up the grids, to make for better racing on Sunday. There are likely to be some acrimonious wrangles as drivers lose grid slots due to others getting in their way, while the teams' operational engineers will be on their mettle, as they cannot afford for their driver to be eliminated while he is in the pit lane getting fuel and tyres.
Arguably, after all the bluster going into the Geneva meetings yesterday about a once in a generation chance to fix the sport, F1 has fixed something that wasn't broken; the old qualifying format was one of the things that previously worked best.
Although this new system will be more exciting, the TV ratings for qualifying are nothing compared to the races and this is unlikely to move the needle much on that front. It's more about making the race prospects look more unpredictable after qualifying with mixed up grids.
Team operational engineers have told this site that the new tyre rules with three different Pirelli compounds available at each race are unlikely to make much difference to the race strategy, as teams will generally default to doing the same as each other in tyre choice and with the failsafe of having a few sets of each tyre available, there is not the scope for making a massive error, which would have made things more interesting.
Bernie Ecclestone raised the temperature ahead of the meetings in Geneva yesterday, by saying that F1 was 'the worst it has ever been' and that he 'would not pay to watch it'.
Even more provocatively, he accused Ferrari and Mercedes of running 'illegal cartels' to stitch up the rule making process, via their influence on customer engine teams. He did not get the revolution he wanted in the rules for F1 going forward, but he certainly dismayed the manufacturers and teams with such negative comments on the day when millions of F1 fans around the world re-engaged with the sport through the new cars and testing in Spain.
Other initiatives discussed yesterday include the new technical rules for 2017 with a means to increase the aerodynamic downforce of the cars to make them significantly faster. There has been disagreement among teams about the best way to achieve this, with Red Bull and McLaren both leading the way with their individual studies. Not everything has yet been agreed on the 2017 new style cars, with tyres still an outstanding point, so the teams and F1 commission have agreed to give themselves until April to confirm a solution.
The idea of greater cockpit protection for drivers was also approved, with the halo design of a ring system above the drivers head looking the most likely to come into force.What do you think of the new format? Will it make you more likely to watch qualifying? Leave your comment below of head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion
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