Qualifying… and the future

The good news is that Formula 1 has broken out of the daft situation in which it found itself, with a hopeless and utterly complex qualifying structure that was being hung onto because the powers-that-be did not want to be seen to be defeated. I am not sure that the decision to give up was made because of any great love of the sport and or any desire to protect it, but rather that it happened because those concerned were worried that they were eroding their own credibility – which was what was happening.

The retreat had the proviso that the FIA and the Formula One group want to re-assess the format of Grand Prix weekends, with a view to introducing changes in 2017. The logic behind this is simple. They want to keep race promoters and TV companies happy by providing them with more of a show than traditional qualifying procedures. The pursuit of this goal had taken them off into wildly complicated schemes that were virtually impossible to explain to the public.

Simplicity is often the best and most elegant answer and there is, therefore, a lot to be said for the idea of having a qualifying race on the Saturday of a Grand Prix weekend. Races are complex things if you want them to be, but if you simply want to watch a race and see who wins, without worrying yourself about strategies, then you can. Qualifying races have been used in the past and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with them, so long as the ring masters don’t try to introduce artificial elements, such as reversing the top eight, as happens in GP2. This means that some drivers win races that they do not deserve to win because they won pole position by finishing eighth.

For the sport to be credible and escape claims of manipulation, the fastest man and the fastest machine should win – if they do a perfect job. If the car breaks down or the driver crashes then he suffers for it. A qualifying race would add excitement for the crowd, the opportunity for more TV coverage and it would also make Friday more important as there would be value in the qualifying to set the grid for Saturday, rather than two meaningless free practice sessions as is the case today.

The key element I think is that qualifying races should not involve World Championship points of any kind. They  should exist simply to decide the grid order. There are plenty of other questions such as the distances of the two races and whether there should be pit stops and so on, but as a concept I think it would spice up a race weekend.

It is clear that as the formula matures, there is convergence in terms of the relative competitiveness of the different teams. This is a good thing and rule changes serve only the increase the gaps again, giving the advantage to those with the most money. The only way to negate the money question is to have spending limits that everyone has to adhere to. These are entirely policeable and would be self-policing because no serious player could risk being caught cheating.

It would also be a bit like the NCAP crash-tests that were opposed by the car manufacturers until they realised that the safety rating of their cars could be used as a selling point. If one is winning F1 races, spending the same as the opposition, the victory has more value than if it is achieved by having more cash. If there were spending limits in F1 the sport would be more cost-effective and thus one would probably see more manufacturers interested in taking part.