Three Ways To… improve qualifying.

RG leads the way-446

I’m a diehard Formula 1 fan. Whatever changes are made to the sport, I’m going to tune in. I can complain about the spirit of the sport being destroyed as much as every other fan, but at the end of the day, I’m still going to watch. When Formula 1 looks at ways in which the sport should be evolving, listening to what the diehard fan would do is a waste of time; our viewing is already assured. Instead, Formula 1 should be looking to other sports/gaming platforms with growing audiences or commentators who have gained the respect of a younger fan base for inspiration. With this in mind, I would like to add to observations comments made by Jessica McFadyen and team in a recent WTF1 podcast reflecting on possible changes to qualifying.

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The existing Formula 1 qualifying format, unfortunately, is not overly engaging. Whilst I will follow Q1 & Q2, neither session grabs the viewer’s attention unless something out of the ordinary is taking place. Only by Q3 do I truly engage with the session, i.e. put down my phone. Proposals to split Q3 into two sessions have been mentioned in the media recently, this, in my opinion, will not address the underlying issue of engagement. The inspired alternative coming from the WTF1 team, with a bit of detail from myself goes as follows:

  1. Q1: 15-minute session. All drivers on track with the slowest driver from each team being eliminated at the end of the session. That’s right! If Lewis Hamilton qualified 2nd behind Valtteri Bottas in Q1, he would start the race in P11. This form of head-to-head racing will create new rivalries within teams, add further pressure to Q1, and ensure a mixed-up grid at every race weekend.
  2. Q2: 15-minute session with seven drivers being eliminated. Eliminated drivers being given free choice on tyre selection for the race.
  3. Q3: 10-minute session to define the top three positions. Free choice on tyre compound used for the session, drivers must use the tyres from Q2 to start the race. Points awarded in 5, 3, 1 for pole, second, and third respectively.

Creating a session in which drivers are directly pitted against their teammate week in week out in the most public of sessions will create “must-see” moments. The pressure of a session of this nature will shape the way in which drivers prepare for race weekends and put into stark perspective the differences between teammates’ ability to maximise their performance on a single lap.

More importantly, what does the kid you can’t convince to put their phone down for more than 10 minutes at a time think?

Formula 1 races are often at their most exciting when top performing drivers and cars are racing out of position. If only one car from each team can ever progress from Q1, every race will feature drivers out of position relative to their performance. This will force teams to adapt aerodynamic philosophies to ensure overtaking is possible as no team will ever start a race with both cars at the front of the grid.

In giving drivers up to P4 on the grid-free choice on tyre compounds for race day, the ability to leapfrog the top three becomes a credible threat.  In awarding points in Q3, the incentive for drivers to progress from Q2 is genuine as is the reward for achievement. Further benefits to this format of qualifying will be seen in in the form in the balance of team exposure.  With one car from each team being removed at the end of Q1, coverage of all teams will be more balanced across each session.

Next Generation Qualifying, as I think this proposal should be coined, might sound daunting because it’s different, but different can be good and in this case, different can be right! What do you think? More importantly, what does the kid you can’t convince to put their phone down for more than 10 minutes at a time think? Over to you Ross…

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