Formula 1 17 Mar 2006 09:47 am

Further thoughts on fine tuning F1 qualifying

Well, I’m not the only one who thinks F1 qualifying is now good-but-could-be-a-little-bit-better. Frank Williams (majority shareholder of the hardest-working F1 team) and Ron Dennis (boss of the evil McLaren team) are both quoted on the ITV-F1 site suggesting that a spot of fine tuning of the qualifying format might not go astray.

I’ve had a chance over the last two days to think about the suggestions I made in my Bahrain GP wrap-up (here) about avoiding the economy run aspects of the final 20-minute run-off for the 10 fastest cars.

You know, much as I like the idea of letting the fastest cars go hell-for-leather on low fuel, I also like the variations that are thrown up by the varying fuel strategies impacting qualifying pace. In Bahrain, this almost certainly worked AGAINST Mark Webber, who ran very heavy in qualifying in order to work towards a strong finish in the race, but whose ultimate lack of pace pushed him too far behind the leaders to make it possible to fight at the front during the race. (There’s a fascinating and in-depth analysis of the performance of the Williams team in Bahrain on the autosport.com site — but it’s only available to subscribers.)

Anyway… I have come to the opinion that it is A Good Thing to run the final qualifying session on the fuel that will be in the car at the start of the race. But I think something needs to be done to avoid the situation where the teams do what they can to make sure the car is light when it goes out for its quick lap.

Right now this is what they do:

* at the start of the session, the car is fuelled up to the level desired at race start, and it is weighed
* the teams then bolt on the oldest, scraggiest set of tyres available and send the drivers to run around at about 90% of the expected final qualifying speed — this allows fuel to be burnt off, while preserving the engine (I wonder whether they have a special black-smoke-inducing high fuel-burn engine map for this phase of running…)
* when the fuel has been burned down to the level where they think that they can put in a fast quali time (remember, 10kg of fuel is worth 0.3 to 0.5 seconds a lap), they hare into the pits, bolt on a grippy new set of tyres and go for a fang
* at the end of the session, the teams get ‘fuel credits’ for laps run within 110% (by time) of the best lap, and can refuel accordingly for the race start.

The up-shot of this is that the top 10 cars go on a reasonably high-speed economy run for 15 minutes burning off fuel until they are ready to do a quick lap. And this is a Silly Situation.

My suggestion:
* weigh the cars at the start of the final qualifying session
* every time the car leaves the pits between now and the start of the race, it must weigh the same as the weight at the start of the final qualifying session.

This would allow teams to have as many or as few runs as they like on new tyres, but every time they came in to change to a fresh set of tyres, they would have to top-up the fuel again. This approach would have the following advantages:
* no fuel burning long runs (saves fuel, which is important for the sake of not appearing to be even more wasteful than F1 already is)
* wider time window for putting in a fast qualifying lap (you can do it at the beginning of the session or at the end)
* increases the need to think about all aspects of fuel strategy (qualifying and race impacts) because you can’t negate the qualifying impact by running the fuel down.

There may be some practical issues in implementation of this plan, but I’m sure a solution could be found along one of the following lines:
* weigh station installed at each pit, monitored by FIA officials, to make sure about ‘correct weight’ whenever a car leaves the pits, or
* standardised fuel use sensor and recorder in the cars, accessed by the teams and the FIA when the car enters the pits; fuel use being fed back to the fuelling rig for accurate top up
* high speed ‘rolling’ weigh station installed at pit exit (don’t even know whether this technology exists).

Anybody got any other (better?) ideas for fine tuning the final 20-minute qualifying session? If so, add a comment.

[Now all we have to do is convince Channel 10 to show us the qualifying…]

2 Responses to “Further thoughts on fine tuning F1 qualifying”

  1. on 17 Mar 2006 at 11:50 (Sydney) 1.rhm said …

    I’ve blogged about the new qualifying procedure, why it sucks and how it came to be. Here firstly:
    http://www.exaflop.org/pivot/entry.php?id=65&w=the_racing_blog
    And more so here:
    http://www.exaflop.org/pivot/entry.php?id=66&w=the_racing_blog

    My opinion is that qualifying on race fuel was a bad idea to start with and keeping that rule for the top 10 cars this year is the worst idea ever in F1 (well, since Lola entered it anyway).

  2. on 18 Mar 2006 at 10:36 (Sydney) 2.Honda Rules said …

    Sorry Richard, but I agree with RHM that the “final session qualifying with race fuel” sucks. Now there are 3 ways around this as I see it:

    1) Remove all fuel restrictions and let the guys go for it, in the process actually setting a better time than the second qualifying session;

    2) Get the teams to specify how heavy their cars will be prior to the race start BEFORE qualifying, then let them qualify on low fuel; or

    3) Have a Top Ten run off (similar to V8 Supercar) as the 3rd session. This is the solution to broadcasters’ (e.g. Bahrain GP) inability to focus on the right cars in final qualifying (note to all broadcasters – showing cars in the pits during qualifying while cars are on the track is NOT INTERESTING!!), and the one that I am most in favour of (to me, the 2nd best thing about Bathurst is the Top Ten on Saturday, either live or on TV)

    Re RHM’s blog about JV’s comments about qualifying being “so busy”, but you’re not able to set-up the car much. Well, isn’t that what Fridays are about?? Oh that’s right, the FIA’s “cost saving” 2 race engine rule puts paid to that. I’m sorry, but in a multi-billion dollar sport, having guys “saving their engines” while the manufacturers are throwing billions of dollars at it does not make sense. MORE ENGINE BLOW-UPS I SAY!! (JV’s looked fantastic last week …)