Formula 1 qualification explained

The qualification session in Formula 1 determines the starting order (also called grid) for the main race based on the fastest lap time from the drivers. It takes place on the Saturday of a race weekend. It can have a significant impact on the outcome of the race. Drivers and teams aim to set the fastest lap times possible in order to secure the best possible starting position.

F1 qualification setup

Qualifying consists of three parts:
  • Q1: all drivers participate in a 18-minute session. The slowest 5 are not allowed to continue to Q2 and their fastest time determines their grid position.
  • Q2: the remaining drivers participate in a 15-minutes session. The slowest 5 are not allowed to continue to Q3 and there fastest time determines their grid position.
  • Q3: the 10 fastest drivers from Q2 battle for pole-position in a 12-minute session. Their fastest time determines their grid position.
During any of the qualifying sessions, drivers are free to go out on the track and set their fastest lap times at any point. In sprint weekends qualification determines the starting position for the sprint instead of the race.

Qualifying definitions

Pole position: This is the starting position on the grid that is occupied by the driver who sets the fastest lap time in the qualifying Q3. It is considered to be a prime starting position, as it allows the driver to have a clear track ahead of them and to get a good start in the race.

Grid: This is the starting formation for the race, with the cars lined up on the track in the order that they qualified. The front row of the grid is occupied by the drivers who set the fastest lap times in the qualifying session, with the rest of the drivers starting behind them in order of their lap times.

Penalties: numerous different penalties can be applied on the qualification results, which ultimately determine the grid. These can be due to penalties from previous GP weekend, changing of car parts over the allocated number or for infringements during one of the weekend's sessions.

The history of qualifying formats

There have been several different Formula 1 qualifying formats used over the years.
  • Two one hour qualifying sessions: This was the original qualifying format used in Formula 1. It involved each driver setting a single lap time in any of two session (one Friday, one Saturday), with the fastest lap time determining the starting order for the race. This format was used from the inception of the World Championship in 1950 until the end of the 1995 season. This format however, came with a major drawback. It could mean a thrilling climax was far from guaranteed, especially if it was dry on Friday but then wet on Saturday.
  • One hour qualifying: This involved each driver setting a single lap time in a one hour session, with the fastest lap time determining the starting order for the race. Drivers had a maximum of 12 laps (including in and outlaps). The drawback of this approach was that often teams would wait for the best track conditions at the end of the session, waiting for others to 'clean up' and 'rubber down' the track. This format was used from the 1996 until the end of the 2002 season.
  • One lap qualifying: This format was introduced in 2003 and used until 2006. It involved two qualifying sessions, held on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, the drivers took to the track one at a time in championship order, completing a single flying lap. 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. The problem with this system was that at least one or more drivers would almost always be disadvantaged by the running order, either by virtue of track conditions or changeable weather. During these seasons several tweaks have been applied, like taking the first session running order from the previous race (instead of the championship) in 2004. And with the combined lap times from both sessions determining the starting order for the race (in 2005).
  • Knockout qualifying: This format was introduced in 2006 and used until 2009. It involved three qualifying sessions, held on Saturday, with the slowest drivers being eliminated after each session. The starting order was determined by the lap times set in the final session (Q3) although with their race fuel already onboard. This setup meant fans still didn't have flat-out one-lap qualifying.
  • The current qualifying format: which was introduced in 2010, involves three qualifying sessions (Q1, Q2, and Q3) held on Saturday, with the starting order being determined by the lap times set in the final session (Q3).
  • Elimination qualifying: This was a short-lived format that was introduced in 2016 and used for only two race weekends. It involved three qualifying sessions, with the slowest drivers being eliminated after each session. 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. This concept was to confusing and convoluted for both drivers, teams and the fans and was quickly discarded again for the current format.
Date last modified: 2023-01-23 01:06:26 - 4 days ago
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