In Depth

F1 shakes up Grand Prix qualifying with regular eliminations

Slowest cars to be knocked out one by one, but will it change the way teams operate?

Formula 1 bosses have agreed a new format for qualifying with drivers being eliminated one by one.

The move was approved at a meeting in Geneva and could be put in place before the Australian Grand Prix next month.

"Motorsport bosses want to increase unpredictability amid criticism that race weekends can become too formulaic," says the BBC. "The plan was approved in principle, but teams have gone away to analyse the potential impact."

Qualifying will still be split into three sessions but the elimination process will be more gradual:

  • Q1 - 16 minutes, 22 drivers: After seven minutes, the slowest driver is knocked out, with six more cars eliminated at 90-second intervals.
  • Q2 - 15 minutes, 15 drivers: After six minutes, the slowest is knocked out, with six more eliminated at 90-second intervals.
  • Q3 - 14 minutes, eight drivers: After five minutes, the slowest driver is knocked out, with one more eliminated every 90 seconds until only two are left. They then have 90 seconds to post the fastest lap.

The plans have the backing of F1 circus ringleader Bernie Ecclestone, who says he wants to shake up the front of the grid.

"While the current qualifying format has been deemed a success over the past decade, it appears team chiefs believe more constant eliminations during the hour will increase the chances of creating more unpredictable grids with driver or team mistakes more heavily penalised," says Sky Sports.

But the jury is out, with some F1 experts sceptical about the idea. Sky's Ted Kravitz pointed out that the new system ignored the way the teams use tyres. "The best times are set when the tyre is on its first or second hot lap. After that, the best performance of the tyre is gone and the lap times don't improve," he said. "The reality is that teams will not just go out onto the track and keep going round and round to set quicker times. They'll go out, set what they hope is the quickest time on a fresh tyre, come back in and let the slower cars get dropped one by one as the session progresses."

Those concerns were echoed by Motorsport.com. One "team insider" told the website: "I'm currently struggling to see how this changes how we operate as the tyres are generally only good for one hard lap... We won't be driving around on sub-optimal tyres."

The plan will now be studied in detail by the teams, adds the website, "which could expose previously unforeseen problems that make it unworkable".

If the changes are to be introduced, they must be ratified by the World Motor Sport Council, which next meets on 4 March.

Yesterday's meeting in Geneva also approved plans for improved cockpit head protection, to cushion drivers from debris, which will be introduced from 2017. 

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