Should Formula 1 introduce circuit specific qualifying formats?

Due to the nature of Spa-Francorchamps and Monza there has been a necessity to get a tow during a qualifying run in order to record the best possible time. This unfortunately has the side effect of drivers going incredibly slowly either to preserve life in their delicate Pirelli tyres or to best position themselves to get the maximum out of a tow. This has led to some ‘farcical’ situations in Formula 3 and Formula 1 at this and last season’s Italian Grand Prix.

Those ‘farcical’ situations have led some to debate what would be the best possible solution to avoid such scenes again. The FIA introduced a minimum out and in lap time in Formula 1 during the weekend to try and avoid scenes that took place in the final part of qualifying at last season’s Grand Prix at Monza, and during the Formula 3 qualifying over the weekend.

But as qualifying at Monza showed, especially in the earlier segments, it doesn’t completely solve the problem with drivers often racing each other during an out lap and in the early part of a flying lap in order to get and maintain track position and/or gain as big a tow as possible. It led to some drivers believing that the introduction of minimum out and in lap times had made the situation worse rather than better.

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Despite this issue there doesn’t need to be a massive overhaul of the current qualifying format to solve such a problem as more often than not the current format works very well. Therefore perhaps an alternative solution could be introduced of having a few ‘circuit specific’ qualifying formats to help avoid scenes such as those seen in the last two races at Monza. This isn’t a new suggestion with those within the sport having suggested the idea in the wake of qualifying for the 2019 Italian Grand Prix.

As for exactly what shape that ‘circuit specific’ qualifying format should take, the sport need only look into Formula 1’s past for some inspiration, or IndyCar. During the 2005 season Formula 1 had a qualifying session where cars would go out one at a time on a Saturday and then again on Sunday morning to create an aggregate qualifying time. The format was derided due to its lack of entertainment and was switched to the three segment qualifying that is still in use today. But considering the recent issues in qualifying along with the safety concerns they raise with cars going at very different speeds it is perhaps time to revisit and alter the 2005 qualifying format.

That alteration could be in the form of allowing cars a set number of runs, say four, to secure their fastest time. It could be done in a way where the first run is in reverse championship order, the second in championship order with it being alternated for the final two runs to help alleviate any disadvantage by running on a dirty/green track.

This is by no means the only solution to the problem raised in the last couple of qualifying sessions but to me it is the most direct way of solving the problem of traffic. It also addresses the safety concerns raised by having cars going at very different speeds on the same section of track. It therefore raises the question of whether seeing a ‘farce’ that is cars tripping each other up or driving slowly on an in and out lap is worth the pain to the alternative of having something like a one-shot qualifying which solves the problem but provides less entertainment for those watching.

Liberty Media and the FIA have been bold recently by introducing the outer Bahrain circuit to the calendar, changing the distribution of prize money to teams and introducing new technical regulations for 2022. Perhaps it is time for both to ask whether they need to be bold once again by adjusting the qualifying format at certain events to solve the potentially dangerous traffic issues that are occurring in qualifying.

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