There have been many rumours circulating around Formula 1 websites and blogs about the planned changes to the qualifying format for the 2008 season.
Now the 2008 F1 Sporting Regulations have been made available by FIA, so let’s have a look at the articles that affect the qualifying:
First the qualifying format itself (Article 33, page 18):
The qualifying practice session will take place on the day before the race from 14.00 to 15.00.
Not much change here, we still talk about Saturday 2pm to 3pm. But does this mean that in Singapore we will have day time qualifying and night time race (confirmed to start at 8pm) or will there be special provision made for Singapore qualifying ?
The session will be run as follows:
a) From 14.00 to 14.20 (Q1) all cars will be permitted on the track and at the end of this period the slowest seven cars will be prohibited from taking any further part in the session. Lap times achieved by the seventeen remaining cars will then be deleted.
Firstly, when they talk about “slowest seven” and “seventeen remaining” they still talk with expected Prodrive entry and total 24 cars on the grid in mind. This will not happen, so there will be only “slowest six” and “remaining sixteen”, same as last year.
Q1 session is the busiest one, so giving all 22 cars more time means more space, less traffic jam. It also provides more TV time in a course of the season for the teams that usually only take part in Q1. Ralf would have loved it should he still be on the grid in 2008 . All and all, not much wrong with this change in my opininon.
b) From 14.27 to 14.42 (Q2) the seventeen remaining cars will be permitted on the track and at the end of this period the slowest seven cars will be prohibited from taking any further part in the session. Lap times achieved by the ten remaining cars will then be deleted.
Again, in the real 2008 life we will have sixteen remaining cars in Q2, and further six will be eliminated after this session. The session length is 15 minutes. If my memory serves me well, that means there are no changes to Q2. Very likely Q2 will still be the low fuel flat-out session – the true display of cars’ and drivers’ speed. But soemthing should have been done with this session too. There were too many occasions during 2007 season when there were no cars on track for first 4-5 minutes of the Q2. And there is still nothing to force the cars to show us some action right from the beginning…
c) From 14.50 to 15.00 (Q3) the ten remaining cars will be permitted on the track.
The above procedure is based upon a Championship entry of 24 cars. If 22 cars are entered only six cars will be excluded after Q1 and Q2.
Without reading the regulations further, the above description of the Q3 does not give a full picture. We will have 10 cars running around the track for 10 minutes. Main reason for shortening this session was reducing the boring and wasteful fuel burn time. One thing that shortening the session achieves is that the cars will pretty much only have enough time to do 2 timed laps (unless they do 2 back-to-back flying laps without tyre change). This leaves very little time for the fuel burn and weight loss exercise. However, FIA does not stop here.
There is a new regulation related to refueling as well (Article 29.1 page 15):
b) Fuel may not be added nor removed from any car eligible to take part in Q3 between the start of Q3 and the start of the race, unless any eligible car was unable to take part in which case the belwo c) will apply.
c) Any competitor whose car is eligible but unable to take part in Q3 must, prior to the start of Q3, inform the FIA in writing what quantity of fuel they wish to add to the car. Any such refueling will take place when the car is released from parc ferme on the day of the race. This paragraph, found few pages before the Qualifying regulations, seems to eliminate any temptation to waste fuel during the Q3. It also puts an end to the system of fuel credits for each lap the cars do during the Q3. The teams in Q3 may however be tempted to go to the session with heavier fuel loads, especially if Q2 shows them their advantage (or disadvantage) over the competition. In general I do not think this will mix up the starting grids any more than the previous version of 3 part qualifying. It should though be the final nail to coffin for the boring opening minutes of the Q3.
There is one more interesting point in Article 33:
Any driver whose car stops on the circuit during the Qualifying session will not be permitted to take any further part in the session. Any car wich stops on the circuit during the qualifying session, and which is returned to the pits before the end of the session, will be held in parc ferme until the end of the session.
While I am not 100% sure I believe this is new as well. I am not aware of any existing definition of a “driver whose car stops on the circuit” or a “car wich stops on the circuit”. I hope the FIA will clarify this to the teams. Car that spins, stops for a while, and then continues hopefully would be allowed to continue …
But all the top teams and drivers now have to hope they will be spared of any mechanical troubles during Q1 and Q2.
There will likely be no doubts is cases like this :
There are many who still favour the old 12 laps (3 flying laps) system, hoping to see the cars going flat out with almost no fuel. Well, but back then we had to wait till the dying minutes of the qualifying for some action. I personally like the 3 part qualifying we have now. It provides some action for the better part of the qualifying hour, with all cars forced to go out on track early on. Though not perfect (as if anything is) the format is pretty good and the new tweaks should make it even better show. Yes, the pole position may still be decided by fuel load and not by the raw speed, but unless there is an outright ban on refueling the fuel tactics will always be part of the F1.
Click here for the complete 2008 F1 Sporting Regulations: 2008 F1 Sporting Regulations