The rules behind F1 qualifying are not that clear to everyone, and the various changes that have been made to the regulations can be tricky to understand. Today we will try to go through them and show you as simply as possible what are the mechanisms by which the starting grid of Formula 1 races is established and how the Saturday Sprint Race and the new Sprint Shootout work.
Let’s start with the basics
Each team has 20 sets of tires (one set corresponds to four tires, ed.) available for each race: 7 wet (including 3 full wets and 4 intermediates) and 13 dry. Each set features a particular type of compound that differentiates one from another in hardness, performance, and durability.
The challenge for teams is to be able to find the best balance between these characteristics to make the most of them and be fast in both qualifying and the race. Proper tire exploitation is the basis of any winning strategy.
Tires are further divided, as mentioned earlier, by category: wet and dry. In the first case, the racing teams can count on two types of compounds: full wet (recognizable by the blue color on the tire shoulder) to be used in particularly adverse environmental conditions, or intermediates (in green) when the asphalt is somewhere between dry and wet. For dry weather tires (slicks) the compounds become 5, recognized as C1 (compound) for the hardest compound up to C5 with the softest compound. To be precise, hard (white) are used for long-distance runs; medium (yellow) for a compromise between run length and performance; and finally soft (red) for the maximum possible grip. Each weekend Pirelli demarcates the tires that can be used with these 3 items, but in some races the mediums are considered soft depending on track conditions.
Tire behaviors on the track also vary with asphalt temperature, a temperature that greatly impacts tire wear.
In the jargon, a track is referred to as “rubberized” when the trajectories are covered by the rubbery residue from the passage of cars that have run several laps and the grip is optimal.
F1s first cleaned the trajectory, such as lifting the inevitable dust, and then rubberized the track resulting in improved lap times.
There are many ways to interpret and predict what the right strategy might be. Sometimes on TV, team strategists equate the performance of a “used” hard tire (i.e., with optimal temperature reached and grip with stable terrain) with that of medium tires. Conversely, a yellow at full speed achieves similar performance to soft. Ultimately, circumstances change depending on temperature, setting, driver feeling, and car settings…. Only engineers engaged in the specifics can decipher the immense amount of data at hand and sometimes make the right choice.
After this brief but necessary digression, let us return to explaining how qualifying works in Formula 1.
Structure of the weekend
The race weekend usually begins on Friday with two free practice sessions, better known as FP1 and FP2 (free practice), lasting one hour each. In FP1 and FP2 The teams have a chance to try out set-up changes, test new parts, maybe get the third driver on the team to run a few miles. At the same time, FP1 and FP2 are for the driver to adapt to the track (FP1) to better understand the braking points and get some initial data on the race pace (FP2) that the car can sustain.
The times of these sessions are not really comparable; each team uses them according to its own needs and resulting schedule.
Saturday begins with a final free practice session(FP3) in which refinements are generally made on the work done previously before arriving, barring unforeseen circumstances, three hours later at qualifying.
These are divided into three separate sessions: Q1, Q2 and Q3.
Q1 – The duration is 18 minutes. All riders are required to record a useful time that places them among the top 15 finishers. The zone between the sixteenth and twentieth is called theelimination zone. From Q1 come the first verdicts for the starting grid, as drivers who end up in the ‘elimination zone will start from the position obtained during this practice round.
Q2 – The time decreases to 15 minutes, as does the number of drivers participating. The elimination zone moves between the 11th and 15th positions. Same for the grid.
Q3 – Getting into the swing of things. The available minutes become 12, and the 10 drivers remaining in this last phase will play for the infamous pole position, or the first place on the starting grid for Sunday’s race.
A new feature introduced for the 2022 season is the option to choose whether to use the best compound used in Q2 for the race as well, a mandatory choice until the previous edition. A paradigm shift that really makes a difference in performance, as adoptable strategies can now vary more judiciously and with fewer constraints.
In special cases where it is not possible to hold/resume qualifying, the grid for the race will be drawn up based on the results obtained in the last free practice held, then FP3.
Room for news: what is Sprint Race Qualifying and the Sprint Shootout
In the 2021 season, we saw the debut of a new mode of qualification with the introduction of the Sprint Race Qualifying. The federation then decided to repeat the experiment for the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship season on three different occasions (Imola, Austria e Brazil). The format will be in place also for the 2023 season and there will be 6 Sprint Races: the first Sprint will be run in Baku, Azerbaijan, and then in Austria at the Red Bull Ring, in Belgium at Spa-Francorchamps, in Qatar at the Circuit de Lusail , in the United States at the Circuit of The Americas and finally in Sao Paulo, Interlagos.
The Sprint Race is a 100-kilometer mini-race (lasting a maximum of 30 minutes) without a mandatory pit stop that in 2022 decreed the starting grid for Sunday’s race. From 2023 this will no longer be the case, it will be a real standalone race, and Friday’s qualifying will determine the starting grid for the Sunday’s race.
Points are awarded to the top 8 finishers that will add up in both driver and manufacturer rankings. The first gets 8 points, the second 7 until the eighth gets one point.
Of course, the schedule with the canonical scheduled events varies: space for FP1 on Friday with Q1, Q2 and Q3 to follow. The traditional qualifying sessions will be used to decree grid positions for Saturday’s sprint qualifying.
The intent is to add spectacle to the weekend by effectively removing a free practice session. This is a race in its own right, as the points awarded are added to the rainbow rankings.
In 2022, whoever won the Sprint Race was in pole position for the Sunday race. Whoever records the best time during Friday’s qualifying will start from the first place on the grid in Saturday’s sprint race.
An interesting feature is that there is no requirement to stop at the pits to change tires, unlike the races we are used to. The driver may decide together with the team to finish with the same set of tires with which he started, complicit in the reduced mileage.
Simple, right? Yes, but that’s not all: the Sprint Shootout has been added.
To make the race weekend even more exciting and intense, the FIA, Formula 1, all teams and parties involved, agreed to introduce some changes to the Sprint Race format.
From the Baku race and for all the other 5 races where the Sprint Race will be run, there will be two qualifying sessions.
The first qualifying session will be run on Friday, and this session will determine the starting grid for Saturday’s Sprint Race.
A second qualifying session, shorter than Friday’s, will be run on Saturday morning. This session is called the Sprint Shootout, each qualifying segment will be shorter and will run as follows: the SQ1 lasting 12 minutes, the SQ2 10 minutes, and the SQ3 eight minutes, and will replace the previous FP2 on Saturday morning of Sprint weekends. Each rehearsal segment will be separated by 7-minute breaks. New tires are mandatory for each stage, with medium for SQ1 and SQ2 and soft for SQ3.
The Sprint Race will then become a separate element, and the result of the Sprint Race will no longer determine the starting grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix, with qualifying taking place on Friday and these determining the starting grid on Sunday.
Here is a brief summary of how the race weekend will unfold in the 6 Grand Prix where there will be Sprint Race and Sprint Shootout:
- Friday: a single free practice session followed by qualifying for the Grand Prix (standard qualifying format).
- Saturday: Qualifying for the Sprint (Sprint Shootout) followed by the Sprint Race.
- Sunday: Grand Prix.
Why this new Sprint Race format and the introduction of the Sprint Shootout?
This new format leaves teams with only 1 hour of practice time to collect data, define what tires to use, make any changes and settings, and define what will be the cars they will run on the weekend. This new format will ensure that the Sprint Race will no longer determine the starting grid for Sunday’s race, and thus will be more “risky” for the teams precisely because they will have a reduction in practice time, and it will stimulate the drivers to be even more competitive on Saturday (I don’t know if there was really a need).
And how do the penalties work? Will they be applied only to the Sprint Race?A grid penalty incurred in P1 or qualifying will be applied to the race.
Let’s keep it simple:
- any penalty taken in early practice or qualifying will apply to the race
- any grid penalties taken in the Shootout will apply to the Sprint Race.
- any grid penalties incurred in the Sprint will apply to the Race.
- any infringement in the parc fermé will result in a start from the pitlane for the Sprint and Race.
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