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Does Formula One’s qualifying format need changing?

| 16.10.2018

With Lewis Hamilton racing away to a fifth world championship, focus has started looking to the 2019 Formula One season.

Efforts are being made to make the sport more competitive. With Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull dominating in recent years.

Between them, the three teams have won the last 114 Grand Prix and taken 109 of the last 111 podium finishes.

Viewing figures are substantially down, and sponsors have avoided the sport in recent years.

One such idea touted in a bid to spice things up is a change to the qualifying system.

What’s the current system?

Right now, qualifying is a one-hour session divided into three parts. It’s been in place since 2006 and sees all 20 cars go out in the first part, with the slowest five knocked out after 18 minutes.

The remaining 15 cars take place in the second 16 minute segment. Again, the slowest five are knocked out at the end.

That leaves a top-10 12 minute shootout. But tyre rules often leave those qualifying from seventh to tenth at a disadvantage to those knocked out in the second segment.

What’s the new idea?

Instead of three parts, the new proposal is to see four shorter sessions, leaving an eight-car shoot-out for pole.

The reasoning is that with less time in each session, there’s more pressure and a bigger chance of an upset.  That in turn would create more varied starting grids, and following that, more competitive and better action in the races.

Would it work?

The idea has some merits. But it’s a band-aid for a bullet wound. Formula One has far bigger issues it needs to address, many of which would go much further to resolving the lack of competitive racing.

The cars can’t follow each-other closely enough to produce good on-track action. There’s a lack of manufacturer input and interest in the wake of Formula E’s rise. Then there’s the off-track issues.

Several teams have flirted with insolvency in recent years. Budgets need to be brought down. Prize money needs to be more evenly distributed.

Has Formula 1 changed qualifying before?

The powers that be have strived and strived to find a perfect qualifying format. More often than not they’ve failed miserably.

One-lap qualifying took place from 2003 to 2005, but it never quite hit the mustard. Drivers would qualify with their race fuel on board too, so often the fastest driver wasn’t on pole position.

Then there was a disastrous move at aggregated qualifying in 2005, which lasted only six races before the single-lap format was brought back.

And there was the shoot-out format in 2016, which lasted just two races after it proved uniformly unpopular and impractical.

Formula One has fudged qualifying before, and though the latest idea is a creditable one, there are bigger problems to be dealt with.

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Richard Marsh

Richard loves his sport, especially if it involves the sound of tyres screaming around a race track. He's not fussy though and his '90s Premier League nostalgia and knowledge of team nicknames is tough to match.