It’s happened, and not for the first time. We’ve got an answer to a question not asked, in the form of a new-for-2016 qualifying system. And, well, it’s a little bit complicated.
With the new season beckoning the FIA has approved the new elimination-style Saturday format after weeks of ‘shall we, shan’t we’, and in time for Formula One’s annual visit to Albert Park.
‘How will it work?’ we hear you cry. Well, in essence, like this;
One trend carried over for 2016 is that the session remains split into three sections. This year in Q1 however, the teams and drivers are given seven laps to don their A-game and set a time, before the final nine minutes see the slowest driver on the timesheets eliminated every 90 seconds, until the chequered flag falls and seven drivers are left particularly peeved off, and out.
Q2 in 2016 remains a 15-minute session, with the 15 escapees from Q1 taking part. Like the new Q1 format drivers are given time to get their initial laps in, however this period falls to just six minutes. For the remaining nine minutes, the slowest driver is booted out every 90 seconds, before the session ends with eight drivers left.
This is where “F1-meets-The-Hunger-Games” gets really interesting. The green light at the end of the pit lane signals the start of a 14-minute session, and presumably a mad rush to get out on track as soon as tyre blankets allow. After five minutes, the eighth-placed man is eliminated, and again, the slowest man faces the same fate every 90 seconds from then on in.
HOWEVER, the final 90 second segment morphs into a Mercedes showdown – sorry a two-car showdown – with pole position decided at the drop of the flag, rather than when the timer reaches 00:00.
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Right Place, Right Time
Inevitably, the new format puts even more emphasis on being on track at the right time and in the right place, with a badly-placed Manor on the apex even more capable of punting a Sebastian Vettel or that Nico Rosberg bloke out of Q1.
This problem will be magnified on longer circuits, such as at Spa and Singapore, where drivers will have just enough time for two flying laps before the first driver is eliminated from each session.
Nothing Soft About Ultra-pressure
With Pirelli’s Ultrasoft compound making its debut at a number of circuits this year, the pressure is on drivers is on to not screw up their flyers in qualifying, with the tyre likely to last just one lap at best.
For example; Q3, Montreal. Lewis Hamilton goes out on the Ultrasofts, but disaster! He locks up at the final chicane. By the time he’s back out on track on another set of tyres, the eliminations have started, and poor ‘ol Lewis is a goner.
You really have to feel sorry for Channel 4. As if undertaking the role as the UK’s free-to-air broadcaster of F1 wasn’t hard enough, the new qualifying rules are going to be a nightmare to follow from the commentary box and pit lane, that despite what is a largely experienced presenter line-up.
So when Romain Grosjean bins it at sector two in Melbourne, while there’s double-waved yellows at Turn One, while Hamilton goes fastest by 0.2s, and Felipe Nasr gets eliminated, don’t be surprised to hear a mistake – or five – on air.
Will the new rules bring added excitement? Or just unnecessary confusion? Even more importantly, what will they do for your Fantasy Grand Prix affairs? All will be answered this Saturday in Melbourne.