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  • Writer's pictureTatiana Žišková

The history of Formula 1 qualifying formats

Throughout the F1 history, there have been different qualifying formats, some successful and some to forget.

In this article, we will go through different formats of Formula 1 qualifying, former and current. But before that, let's have a recap of what qualifying is:

Formula 1 qualifying is the process through which drivers compete to set the fastest lap time around a circuit during a specific time period. (source)

The one with the fastest lap time in qualifying will be awarded a pole position, meaning that the driver will start from first place on Sunday's race.

1. "The two-session format"

years: 1950s-1996

According to the official Formula 1 website, the grid positions were decided by drawing lots in the early stages of the championship.

(A/N: draw lots = to make a decision by choosing from a set of objects such as pieces of paper or sticks that are all the same except for one)

This interesting method was abandoned somewhere around 1950. Since then, until '96, Formula 1 had a "two-session format". The pole sitter was decided by a driver in qualifying who was the fastest. And who ended up the slowest, was at the very end of the grid. Now, to the two-session format – one session was scheduled on Friday and another on Saturday. There were special one-lap qualifying tyres and engines in the 80s; in the 90s, there was an additional pre-qualifying session in the early morning.

2. "The one-hour shootout" (also known as "12-lap shootout")

years: 1996-2002

As the name reveals, drivers had 12 laps and one-hour time to set the fastest lap possible. That

determined the grid order. Simple yet efficent and thrilling for the spectators not only on track but also in front of the TV.

3. "One-lap qualifying" (also known as "1-lap qualifying")

years: 2003-2004

During the one-hour shootout, teams often spent way too much time in the garage to wait for a cleaner racing line to take advantage of it. To prevent this, the rules changed again. From twelve-lap shootout into just one-lap qualifying - ensuring more track action and TV exposure.

"On the Friday of each race weekend, the drivers took to the track one at a time in championship order, completing a single flying lap before returning to the pits. The following day, the process would be repeated again to decide the final grid order, this time with the slowest driver from Friday going first, and the fastest driver last - theoretically on the cleanest track. As a further wrinkle, designed to spice up the racing on Sundays and lead to more unpredictability on Saturdays, the drivers had to set their laps on race fuel levels.“ - Formula 1 (x)

This system, however, had its flaws. Every time there would be someone screwed over by the running order, either by variable track or weather conditions. In 2004, there were slight tweaks to this format. Both sessions now took place on Saturday, and the running order was determined by the previous race's results. Also here were opportunities to manipulate the results, especially with inconsistent weather forecast - in Silverstone, Michael Schumacher deliberately had a slow time in the first session, so he could have a better position for the second session, whereas his competitors were compromised by the weather.

4. "Aggregated qualifying"

year: 2005

Once upon a time, there was a qualifying format of such poor popularity that it was dropped after only six races. How did it work? There were two sessions - one on Saturday, with cars running on low fuel, and one on Saturday, with full tanks. Two-single-lap qualifying times then would be aggregated. This turned out to be a bad idea, and Formula 1 switched back to a more simple format - the good old one one-lap qualifying - for the remaining thirteen races. One of the reasons why the format got dropped was that the media could not publish the results in their morning newspapers.

5. "Elimination qualifying"

years: 2006-2009

In 2006, F1 decided to bid their farewell to one-lap formats and went back to multi-lap qualifying. However, there was a twist. A three-part system was introduced, with a progressive elimination of the slowest drivers till the top 10 remained, who then fought for pole position. The only problem - but a significant one - was the fuel:

"For starters, fans were still denied the spectacle of low-fuel ‘give it all you’ve got’ qualifying runs because the drivers that made it to Q3 had to qualify with their starting fuel loads. What’s more, a complicated fuel credit system - designed to ensure each car did plenty of laps - meant that drivers often spent several laps simply ‘burning fuel’ in Q3 in order to get more back for the race“ - Formula 1

6. Knockout qualifying

years: 2010 – present time

A classic format we all know - there are three parts: Q1, Q2, and Q3, where the pole position is determined. Q3 lasts 18 minutes, Q2 15 minutes, and Q1 12 minutes, with 10 minutes break between each segment. This format came after refueling was banned.

In 2016, F1 tried a little experiment that went horribly wrong - lasted only 2 races - and some of us remember it all too well: yes, the infamous 90 seconds format - after five minutes, the slowest driver would get 90 seconds to improve. Otherwise, he would get eliminated.

"Drivers will have at least a five minute window in Q1, Q2, and Q3 to set a time - but after that point, the slowest driver will be eliminated every 90s. From the 22 entries this year, 15 will progress into Q2, and then eight into Q3 - until there are just two men fighting it out for the right to start from pole." - Formula 1

However, the elimination format turned out to be extremely underwhelming and anti-climatic. Already the debut was embarrassing - instead of watching an exciting fight for the pole position, we watched the drivers sitting in their pits with four minutes to go because there was nothing to play for.

7. Sprints

years: 2021 - present time

We already saw the newest format - loved and hated by many - a few times last and this year. Here you can read more in depth about sprint races!



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