I can’t lie, when I read yesterday that a new qualifying format had been agreed for the 2016 season my initial reaction was a roll of the eyes and a muttered statement along the lines of “it’s a bit late in the day for that and what’s the point, I quite liked how it was.”
It’s true, qualifying has generally been entertaining over the last few years – regardless of outcome – and I didn’t think it needed changing.
But then I actually bothered to read what has been put forward, and I love it even more. It’s a "devil take the hindmost" format where the slowest cars are eliminated at set intervals in a pre-determined time. When I was working at a circuit in the UK many years ago, we used a similar format in our annual festival and it genuinely is a fun way of doing things.
Q1 - 16 minutes
Q1 will run for 16 minutes with the slowest driver of the 20 being eliminated after seven minutes.
The next slowest driver will eliminated every 90 seconds thereafter until there are 15 drivers remaining.
Q2 - 15 minutes
There will be a short break before Q2 begins. The session will last 15 minutes with the slowest driver eliminated after six minutes.
As was the case in Q1, the slowest driver will be knocked every 90 seconds until only eight remain.
Q3 - 14 minutes
The final session will last 14 minutes. After five minutes, like before, the slowest driver will be eliminated after 90 seconds.
The next five drivers will be eliminated at 90 second intervals leaving the final two drivers to fight it out for pole in the final 90 seconds.
The new format is yet to be rubber-stamped and it’s not clear if those 11th and below will be able to start with new tyres as they have been, but we’ll see.
This is going to make qualifying genuinely intense to watch and, dare I say it, could be more entertaining than the races themselves. It encourages everyone to give it everything with no chance of a second shot. It will take more than just being quick as each driver will have to be on their A-game with maximum precision and focus. And contrary to the cries of the naysayers, it will still require a great deal of skill.
Of course there is one major point, and that’s the subject of traffic. The teams will obviously send their cars out at sensible times so as to keep them away from others, but inevitably at some point throughout the season cars will meet each other, and if they happen to be in the elimination zone and get held up – or believe they have been held up – then cue the angry interviews and intervening stewards. It will be nothing new and the “risk” of traffic will all be part of the challenge, but there will doubtless something new to moan about.
I wrote recently that I don’t think the sport needs fixing, just updating in certain areas. If you read around you’ll come across many stories and quotes from grumpy old men complaining that F1 is the worst it’s ever been and so on. It’s not perfect (what is perfect?), but it’s not bad at all.
There are some things that do need looking at, such as certain teams having vetoes, pay-TV, and general greed, but these are deep-rooted issues that can’t – or won’t – be sorted quickly. But a simple shake up of qualifying is an easy change to give the sport a fresher look.
Ultimately, the F1 bods didn’t need to change qualifying, but they did. I, as a fan, welcome it.