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The Developing Saga of Formula 1 Qualifying

After Five Seasons F1 Finds a Winning Formula


The Developing Saga of Formula 1 Qualifying

Giancarlo Fisichella chases Fernando Alonso during qualifying at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix.

Photo (c) Glenn Dunbar/LAT - RenaulF1 Team

For years Formula 1 qualifying was a one-hour session with all the cars running simultaneously and the fastest driver taking pole position, the second fastest taking second position, etc. But as there was a limit on laps and tires, the fastest cars - like Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari - would not go on the track at all until the last minutes, then take the top positions. It was not much of a spectacle.

From one Shootout to Another

For 2002 the International Automobile Federation, the sport's rules-making body, made qualifying system a two two-hour single-lap shootout, where each driver ran a single timed lap alone. That was eventually reduced to one hour, but still failed to excite, except when the strongest drivers made a mistakes.

A Winning Formula is Finally Found

Finally, in 2006 Formula 1 came up with both the most complicated, yet also the most exciting system so far. It had only one flaw, and that was that the first 10 minutes or so of the last session were spent with cars doing nothing but turn laps to burn off fuel, before the real competition began in the few last minutes. That was fixed in 2008 when the last session was changed to 10 minutes. Here's how it works: At 2:00 on Saturday afternoon the teams have a one-hour qualifying session divided into three parts:

Q1: For the first 20 minutes (Q1), all cars together on the track try to set the fastest time. The slowest seven cars are eliminated, earning grid positions 16 to 20.

Q2: From 2:27 to 2:42 the 15 remaining cars do another round, their previous lap times having been cancelled. The slowest five cars are eliminated and take the grid positions 11 to 15.

Q3: From 2:50 to 3:00 the 10 last cars fight for the pole position, or No. 1 spot on the grid, and qualify no lower than 10th.

If a car breaks down and stops on the circuit or is pushed back to the pit lane by track marshals or team members, neither it nor its driver can take further part in the qualifying session.

A Wild and Crazy Time

This new system made qualifying into three separate, exciting events. It also created more controversy as drivers frequently complained of being blocked by other drivers.

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