Formula 1 06 Mar 2006 01:54 pm

Important news for F1 fans: qualifying to be shown on Australian TV

It may not be live, and it certainly isn’t at a civilised time, but F1 fans will be delighted to see that Channel 10 will be showing the qualifying session for this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

That’s big news, because it’s been an ongoing complaint from F1 fans that qualifying, one of the most interesting parts of a GP weekend, has been reduced to a one minute summary prior to the race telecast.

Unless you happen to check your local guide for 0230 on Sunday morning, you may not know about this. But of course, YOU are an educated and intelligent reader of — so you DO know. Make a time in your diary to go out and buy a new tape for the VCR (or program the Topfield for 0230) and find out what happens in qualifying in 2006.

F1 qualifying has been something of a moveable feast in recent years. Several different formats have been tried, and most have ended up producing pretty boring television.

Years ago, qualifying (the run-off to determine who lines up where on the starting grid) took place in a frantic, hour-long free for all. The goal was to set the quickest possible lap time during the session. As it happens, most of the action took place in the closing minutes of the hour, as the track became ‘faster’ with more rubber laid down on it.

In an effort to give some dedicated TV time to all the teams (even the back markers), several years ago this exciting format was scrapped in favour of one-car-at-a-time timed laps. That is, each driver got a turn on the track by himself, and had to set the best possible time. But with running order determined by the reverse of the finishing order in the previous race, this format ended up penalising drivers who had a misfortune in the previous race. (Remember that the track gets quicker as the qualifying takes place — so the drivers at the end of the running order can go faster than those at the beginnning (barring changing weather)).

Thus if you had an accident in race n of the season, you were pretty much destined to start race n + 1 towards the rear of the field — which is a hefty penalty in F1.

For 2006, there is a new and complicated system of qualifying. I reckon it will be fun to watch — but it may just be TOO complicated for casual viewers.

Here’s how it works:

For the first 15 minutes of the qualifying hour, all 22 cars take to the track. At the end of the 15-minute session, the slowest 6 cars are excluded from further qualifying — they are placed in order on the last 6 grid positions (17 to 22). If you have an off in this session and don’t set a good time, you’re stuck up the back.

The same process is repeated for the next 15 minutes. The slowest six cars in this session are allocated to grid positions 11 to 16.

For the final 30 minutes of qualifying, the remaining ten cars run off for the top ten grid positions. But there are some wrinkles: the amount of fuel in your tank at the start of this session is more or less what you must start the race with. At the end of the 30 minute session, you are allowed to ‘top up’ your car with an amount of fuel based on the number of laps you have completed in the session. If you want to run light (and fast) in qualifying, you will be forced to make an early fuel stop.

And the F1 administrators have pre-empted the smarty-pants team strategists. It’s not possible to go out for qualifying with just a few drops in the tank, do a banzai lap and then tool around at reduced throttle building up laps for ‘fuel credit’. You can only top up for laps on which you went at least 90% as fast as your fastest lap.

Got all that?

Look, let’s forget about the complications. I reckon the new qualifying format will be good. It forces the fast guys to ‘have a go’ three times. It gives the fast guys a reasonably open track at the business end of qualifying. And it re-opens the possibility of last minute superman efforts to gain pole.

We’ll all know how it worked come Sunday morning.

Comments welcome.

2 Responses to “Important news for F1 fans: qualifying to be shown on Australian TV”

  1. on 09 Mar 2006 at 10:21 (Sydney) 1.Pete said …

    Ted Kravitz’s analysis on the ITV site is interesting. I look forward to see if some middle teams opt for the ’11th Place’ option when a long first stint sets you up for a good finish.

  2. on 09 Mar 2006 at 10:43 (Sydney) 2.Richard said …

    How tricky will that be — getting just the right lap time for 11th spot?

    I think that we’ll see plenty of fast guys down the back just because they’ve had an off or a small technical glitch in the first or second session — and there just isn’t time to recover. On a track with a 90 sec lap time (say), you’ll need to be out of the pits a bit over three minutes before the end of the session if you want to put in a good lap before the chequered flag. So if you go out early and discover a problem, you probably have only 10 minutes in the pits to fix it!

    I can’t wait. Roll on Sunday morning.