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F1's New Qually Format - mostly a hit

Bryan Edwards

The new qualifying format for Formula One has shown that it's got the potential to make sorting out the grid positions more exciting than races often are. But it's not perfect.

The new format is a series of three knockout rounds. After a "free period" at the beginning of each round, the slowest driver is eliminated every 90 seconds. The lap he's on when the time expires does not count even if he completes it and goes fast enough to otherwise avoid elimination.

At Albert Park, Melbourne, the lap time is about 85 seconds. It follows, then, that unless a driver is already at least 5 seconds into his lap, there is no point in him trying to go quickly. Equally, there is no point in drivers who are in the pits with about three minutes (i.e. 2x90 seconds) before they will come for elimination (therefore the current two slowest) in his going out. Several drivers found themselves in this position.

The format is superb in making teams go out early and go as fast as they can. But, in Q1 at least, it means that the fast teams bag their place in Q2 and park, leaving the tail-enders to fight it out for the rest of the session.

The 90 second limit will prove to be far too short on circuits with long lap times: it was already too short in Melbourne. Also, the preliminary period is too short.

To make the format work, two significant changes need to be made: first mid-qually breaks should be abandoned. The time this buys can be used to give extra "free" running time. Next, qually should be run under race conditions in that proper pit stops should be allowed with in-pit-lane refuelling (albeit from cans, not with the full rigs) and tyre changes. This will drastically reduce turnaround times so we do not see so many drivers eliminated in the pits.

Also, the lap the driver is on when the 90 seconds expires should count: this increases the number of laps drivers get and, again, means we would not see so many drivers eliminated in the pits.

Of course, what will really upset the apple cart is the strict enforcement of track limits (yes, Vettel, we're looking at you) during qualifying. When a driver's fastest lap is cancelled, under the new system, he's got close to zero chance to address it.

The new format is a great idea, but some modification is needed.

And this is why: with six minutes to go, Ferrari decided not to go out, being satisfied with two cars in the top four and knowing the worst that could happen was a one place demotion for both cars. Rosberg decided to challenge Hamilton for pole so in the last six minutes, those two set off. Rosberg took P2 and demoted the Ferraris which, by then had no drivers in the cars. Hamilton extended his P1 and did complete the lap although he didn't need to.

And so with four minutes to go until the end of qualifying, the result was settled and the crowd were watching an empty track as the clock ticked down.

That's not good enough.