How should qualifying change in 2017?

The FIA (or possibly just Jean Todt) seem determined to change the format of qualifying.  While hopefully the form of knockout qualifying we have enjoyed since 2006 will return in China and stay for the rest of the 2016 season, the format of the weekend is due to change next year.  In the recent past it has been rumoured that a switch to a two day (Saturday and Sunday) format for the race weekend could be possible, ditching the Friday which is perceived to have very limited action to attract fans.  The following is very much a personal opinion on what could be done to restructure the race weekend, which may help to address some of the current problems that I see on Formula 1.

Keep a three day format for the race weekend, however there will only be one free practice session of two hours on the Friday morning.  Qualifying will be replaced by three qualifying heats of say 20 laps of a typical F1 circuit (just over 30 minutes).  The first will take place on Friday afternoon, the second on Saturday morning and the final one on Saturday afternoon – in the traditional timeslot for qualifying.  This should see drivers covering about the same number of laps as they do currently through the free practice and qualifying sessions, but most of them will be racing laps.

Each driver will start one heat from the front third of the grid, one from the middle third of the grid and one heat from the final third of the grid.  If you add all the drivers starting positions up they should come to the same value.  With 22 drivers and 21 races (63 qualifying heats) over the season, most drivers will start three heats from pole position and three heats from last position (as well as three heats from every position in between).  With twenty laps in the heat, this should be possible with no pit stops, and there will be no issue over having to save fuel, so it will be flat out racing.  When the drivers in the fastest cars start at the back, they would need to overtake more than one car a lap in order to win the heat.  Points for the heats will be given out as 0 for a win and then the finishing position (2 for 2nd, 3 for 3rd etc.) with 25 points for a non finish.  After the qualifying heats have completed the driver with the lowest total starts on pole and so on to fill the grid.

The timing of the heats would allow TV companies that cover all practice sessions live to cover the heats as they occur, but those that just cover the qualifying live would be able to show highlights of the first two heats, with the third one live which would determine the grid.

Drivers shouldn’t need any more tyres than they currently use, as over a twenty lap heat it is probably fastest to plan to start on new tyres and run without stopping to the end.  Tyre choice for the Grand Prix may be different, as it is typically three times as long as the heats would be, so there will still be plenty of tyre evaluation being done in the single free practice session on the Friday morning.

As all drivers will have to overtake in order to gain a good starting position for the Grand Prix, teams will be forced to design cars that can work well in traffic.  It will be of limited benefit to design a car that only works when it is running alone at the front of the pack, as that will happen very infrequently.

As fans, we would get to see a number of short flat out sprint races where drivers were pushing the cars to the maximum in order to qualify for the Grand Prix (which would remain the only time when points towards the world championship would be awarded).  There would be action in every F1 session through the weekend, no rained off sessions where no-one ventures out, and no long periods with nothing happening while everyone waits for some other team to start cleaning the track.  The promoters would have actual races (the qualifying heats) to sell tickets for on Friday and Saturday, so there should be more people coming in through the turnstiles.  The drivers may even enjoy the experience more (several have commented recently that they enjoy having to battle from the back of the pack when something has gone wrong).  The only potential downside is the extra work for mechanics, should a driver have an incident in one of the qualifying heats, in order to prepare for the next heat.  There is perhaps a greater risk of incident during a qualifying heat than during a normal practice or qualifying session, when drivers try and stay away from one another.

If we are going to have a change to the weekend format for next season, then let’s make it a positive one.  What do you think, what changes do you believe would be positive?  Here at Formula1Blog.com we may not be able to write the regulations, but perhaps those that do may visit the site and read our thoughts.