Talking Heads: Tyred of Qualy?

Our talking heads lock horns once more to debate the unfortunate consequences Pirelli's racy tyres are having on the qualifying spectacle...

Last Updated: 16/05/12 10:39am

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Ah ha, we meet again. So what's got your back up now?
F1's qualifying format.

What, the three-part, one-hour knockout extravaganza that steadily discards the slowest drivers before reaching a thrilling climax with the fight for pole in Q3?
Well, that's the intention and indeed that's generally how things were from 2006 to 2010. But the advent of less durable Pirelli tyres has changed all that.

How so then?
Well, since tyres usage is increasingly crucial to a driver's chances in a race there's an increasing trend for teams to limit their cars' running in favour of 'stockpiling' fresh sets of new tyres to use in the race. That was a something that we began to see last year and, with tyres proving even more key to performance in 2012, it's more in-vogue than ever, particularly in Q3. At the weekend in Barcelona it took an age for anyone but Lewis Hamilton to set a lap and then two of the biggest draws in the sport - Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher - didn't even bother.

You make it sound like the UN weapon inspectors should get involved! But what's the problem? The racing has been exceptional so far this year in case you haven't noticed. There have been five different winners, which our sources tell us last happened before you were even born...
Don't get me wrong, I'm not grumbling about the racing and that should always be the main attraction, but a Grand Prix weekend is not just about Sunday you know - it's supposed to be a three-day event. And at the moment qualifying doesn't always quite hit the mark.

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Okay, point taken. So does anyone of any F1 note endorse this stance?
Well yes actually: step forward Sky Sports F1's expert of experts Martin Brundle who says this: "Once again the unpredictable races have taken the shine off qualifying as many are realizing that a race supply of new tyres of the right compound are more important than grid position at some tracks. Qualy needs a careful tweak with a clever solution for 2013."

We wouldn't like to argue with the Voice of F1, so we won't. He uses the phrase "careful tweak" there, though - are you sure we don't actually need a complete overhaul?
Fundamentally, no. Since being introduced for the start of the 2006 the knockout format has proved almost universally popular, but F1 is always evolving and qualifying needs to reflect that to keep it as relevant and exciting as it should be. Anyway, if you cast your mind back to the last time the sport's rulemakers repeatedly tried to overhaul qualifying, the phrase 'don't throw the baby out with the bath water' would be well-heeded this time.

I still have nightmares over aggregate times...
You're not the only one.

Okay then clever clogs, what do you suggest to put the spice back into Saturdays and Q3?
Perhaps the simplest solution would be to mandate that all drivers have to complete a timed lap in Q3, aside from those whose cars have run into mechanical problems or crashed. If that was in the rules then it would be unlikely a driver would simply cruise round on his 'hot lap', but just to safeguard against such a scenario the 107% rule could be reactivated for Q3. Anyone who ended up outside 107% of the pole time could be hit with a grid penalty. Alternatively, you could just make drivers who don't set a time in Q3 to start the race on the rubber they used at the end of Q2.

All seems a bit severe and authoritarian to tell you the truth. Surely there must be a neater solution that also enhances 'the show'?
Our man Martin can see the pros and cons of another suggestion: "Possibly a set of tyres only available to those who make Q3 would help, but then the racing wouldn't be so interesting if the top 10 had such a tyre advantage on race day."

Here's one for you then - why not just give them all pukka qualifying tyres again?
It's interesting, and surprising, you should mention that. There was much excitement created mid-way through last season when Pirelli chief Paul Hembery floated the possibility of the Italian manufacturer reintroducing short-life Saturday tyres in order to and really turn qualifying into a stand-alone event. Many fans were behind such a move, but the teams were rather more lukewarm it seems.

Okay, well just give the pole sitter a point, or several, and be done with the brinkmanship...
Hmmm...that's a suggestion that has been doing the rounds for a long, long time. Obviously incentivising qualifying beyond mere starting position is one way of focusing teams and drivers' minds on the ultimate prize, but to be honest in normal conditions - even in this crazy season - only a handful of drivers are ever really ever in contention for pole at one time and generally the Q3 no-shows are the drivers likely to qualify further down the top-10 anyway.

Also, there's always the possibility that if a driver gained points for pole he could wrap up a championship in qualifying which would be rather anti-climactic don't you think?

There's no pleasing some people.
The words pot and kettle spring to mind...

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