F1 qualifying, explained

Starting today, the lap times count for real.

Formula 1’s 2024 season begins in earnest on Friday, with qualifying for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. Starting at 7:00 p.m. local time — 11:00 a.m. on the East Coast — the 20 drivers will take to the track in a three-stage process that will eventually set the grid for Saturday night’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

For those new to F1, or those looking for a refresher, here is everything you need to know when it comes to F1 qualifying.

How it works

Over its history F1 has tried many different qualifying formats. In the early days of the sport qualifying took place over two days, with drivers allotted a total of two hours, split into a one-hour session on Friday, and a second one-hour session on Saturday. Drivers had 12 laps at their disposal, with the best lap time for each driver being used to set the grid.

In 1996 F1 switched to a single-session format, with qualifying taking place on Saturdays. Drivers were still limited to 12 laps, and the sport instituted the “107% rule,” aimed at eliminating slower cars. Under this rule, which you can read more about in the SB Nation “F1 Glossary,” cars that fail to set a lap time within 107% of the fastest time will not be allowed to participate in the race absent a waiver.

Starting in 2002 F1 implemented a “one-shot qualifying” format, which saw the return of a two-day qualifying process. On Friday the drivers took to the track, with the current leader of the Drivers’ Championship starting out first. Each driver had one lap, and that would determine the order for the Saturday session. Then on Saturday they would set the grid, with each driver having one more lap at their disposal. The slowest driver from Friday would take to the grid first on Saturday, working up to the fastest driver from Friday’s session.

The 2006 F1 season saw the sport move to a three-stage “knockout” format, which is still in use today. Under this system all 20 drivers take to the track in the first stage, known as “Q1,” and the drivers have 18 minutes to put down their best laps. There is no lap limit on the drivers, only time. Drivers cannot start a new lap once the checkered flag flies, but drivers who are in the middle of a lap when the time expires are allowed to complete their lap, which will count.

At the conclusion of the 18-minute period, the five slowest drivers are eliminated, and the remaining 15 move to the second stage, which is Q2. The five eliminated drivers set the last five spots on the grid for the grand prix, with the slowest driver starting in P20 working up to P16, where the fastest of the eliminated drivers will start.

Q2 begins after a brief break, and follows a similar format to Q1. In Q2, however, the 15 remaining drivers have only 15 minutes at their disposal. Once again, the five slowest drivers are eliminated, and fill in positions P15 through P11 on the grid for the feature race.

The ten fastest drivers advance to the final stage, Q3. After a brief break between Q2 and Q3, the ten remaining drivers have 12 minutes to work with, and how they finish in Q3 determines the top ten starting spots, with the fastest driver qualifying for pole position, giving them the first spot on the grid and the starting spot considered most advantageous.

Qualifying for sprint races works under the same three-stage format, only the times are shorter. The first session — dubbed “SQ1” — lasts 12 minutes instead of 18. SQ2 lasts ten minutes, and SQ3 lasts eight.

How are tires handled

F1 Abu Dhabi Testing

Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Generally speaking, teams are free to use whatever tires they want during qualifying. Typically, that means team will use the softest tires available, as designated by Pirelli, the sport’s exclusive tire supplier, for each race weekend.

However, there are caveats. On most race weekends teams are alloted just 13 sets of tires to work with, eight sets of soft tires, three sets of mediums, and two sets of hards. Teams are also allowed four sets of “intermediate” tires for damp conditions, and three sets of the “full wet” tires for heavy rain conditions.

After each of the three practice sessions, drivers must return two sets of tires to Pirelli, so by the time qualifying begins, a driver will have just seven sets of tires to make it from Q1 until the race’s conclusion and the checkered flag flies.

To give a slight advantage to drivers that don’t qualify in the top ten, any drivers who do not make it to Q3 can retain all seven sets of tires for the race, while those who did advance to Q3 hand over one more set of tires to Pirelli after qualifying comes to an end.

The other caveat is a system known as “Alternative Tire Allocation,” introduced in the 2023 season. F1 introduced this on a trial basis last season, to determine if fewer tires could be brought to the track each race weekend. At both the Hungarian Grand Prix and the Italian Grand Prix last season this method was used, and teams had only 11 sets of tires to begin the weekend. Those were broken down as follows: Three sets of the hards, four sets of the mediums, and just four sets of the softs, down from eight.

In addition, qualifying saw the drivers forced to use specific compounds for each stage. In Q1 drivers had to use hard tires, and those who advanced to Q2 could switch to the mediums. Only the ten drivers who advanced to Q3 could bolt on soft tires.

For sprint qualifying, drivers are required to use medium tires during SQ1 and SQ2. Those who advance to the final stage can use soft tires. At the start of 2023 F1 mandated that drivers were required to use fresh soft tires for SQ3, but this rule was changed mid-season to allow drivers to use any set of soft tires, new or used. This change was made when Lando Norris advanced to SQ3 at the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but could not participate because he did not have a fresh set of soft tires at his disposal.

What other rules should you know?

The other rule you might need to be aware of during qualifying?

Track limits.

Simply put, “track limits” refers to the white lines along the edges of an F1 track. They define the edges of the circuit, acting as the boundaries for the “field of play,” as it were. They also play a key safety role, limiting how drivers can attack the circuit.

As long as drivers maintain contact with the white lines, even if slightly, they are in compliance. But if all four tires cross the white lines to the outside, they are found to be in violation of Article 33.3 of the Sporting Regulations, which reads as follows:

Drivers must make every reasonable effort to use the track at all times and may not leave the track without a justifiable reason.

Drivers will be judged to have left the track if no part of the car remains in contact with it and, for the avoidance of doubt, any white lines defining the track edges are considered to be part of the track but the kerbs are not.

Should a car leave the track the driver may re-join, however, this may only be done when it is safe to do so and without gaining any lasting advantage. At the absolute discretion of the Race Director a driver may be given the opportunity to give back the whole of any advantage he gained by leaving the track.

During qualifying, if a driver is found to have exceeded the track limits, and driven outside the white lines, their lap time will be deleted. Why might this matter? Consider the 2023 Austrian Grand Prix. Sergio Pérez, in Red Bull’s home race, failed to advance to Q3. Why? Pérez had three lap times deleted during Q2 for exceeding track limits. He failed to post a lap time as a consequence, preventing him from advancing to Q3.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top