April 17th, 2013 (F1plus/P. Godley).-There can be no denying that on its day, qualifying in Formula 1 can be just as, if not more, exciting than a race itself. There have been numerous Q3 sessions in recent seasons that have had us on the edge of our seats more than the actual races (usually a Sebastian Vettel domination show). China, unfortunately, was not one of those stellar hours of action. It's not the first time it has happened, but Saturday's event probably highlighted the issue more than any of its predecessors.
Tyres, the buzz word of Formula 1 this season (and last in truth), yet again played a significant role. The events on Saturday were what I'd describe as a shambles, a non-event and well, embarrassing for the sport. It got many thinking about ways in which qualifying could be improved, including myself. Here's my two bob's worth on the matter (yes! I got it in there again. A superb phrase that should be more celebrated, that's for certain).
Let's just get straight into it; Q3. The final session of the day is where we find out who will start that weekend's Grand Prix from pole position. It should be a spectacle, it can be a spectacle, but at the moment, it isn't. First idea; extra tyres. Give each driver an extra set of the softer tyres being used that weekend for use in Q3. At the end of the session those tyres are returned and won't have to be used by the drivers again. They're for the sole purpose of setting a quick lap time in that particular session. There should be a reward for reaching Q3, but at the moment the disadvantages seem to outweigh the advantages for much of the field.
Following on from that idea, the drivers that make it to Q3 should be allowed to start the race on whichever tyre they desire. It's always puzzled me as to why the drivers starting inside the top 10 have to start on the tyres they set a lap in Q3, whereas the drivers who finished 11th and below are free to choose. We've seen it so many times; the driver in 11th is often in a much better position than those starting 8th, 9th or 10th. Thus, we frequently see those drivers who've scraped through to the final session not set a time because of the 'penalty' of having to start on used tyres. Be providing an extra set of tyres to be used and allowing them the choice of what tyre to start the race on you could, hopefully would, encourage all 10 drivers to venture out on track to fight for the pole.
A slightly different idea, but one that has been used in other formulae and types of racing for some time - points for qualifying. It's a system that the British Touring Car Championship has used for as long as I personally remember; and one that the World Touring Car Championship adopted a few years back. In the BTCC the driver who is fastest in qualifying receives a one point bonus; in the WTCC the top 5 drivers from qualifying receive points (five for 1st, four for 2nd, and so on). Could a similar system be used in Formula 1?
Would it encourage those fighting for the Championship to go full out on Saturday to grab those few extra points? We've seen how close the Championship can be at the end of the season; so those extra points could be vital. Would it encourage those who don't score as frequently or as highly as the regular front runners in to really pushing for a top 3 or 5 position in qualifying to score vital points for not only themselves, but their teams as well? The Constructors Championship is vital for the teams; and their performances on a Saturday could be the difference between 5th, 6th, 7th or 8th in the final standings.
I'm not sure whether having points down to 5th is the way to go; but may be rewarding the top three drivers with a few extra points is? Five for the pole sitter, three for 2nd place and 1 for 3rd place? How would that sound? A reward for all three, but with a big enough gap between the points to encourage drivers to go for 2nd over 3rd, and for the pole over 2nd place. Would fans like to see it? Would it work? The race itself is and should always be the most important and most rewarding part of the weekend; but with qualifying playing such a key part in shaping how the race plays out, shouldn't there be a reward for those who show strongly? Yes? No?
Would these ideas work in isolation? Possibly. Would they work simultaneously? Possibly. Does qualifying need looking at, tweaking and improving? Most definitely. Personally I'd like to see all three aspects introduced (I guess that's obvious as I wouldn't have bothered explaining them otherwise, but hey-ho). There are probably other ideas that more intelligent, informed and important people can think of and suggest; but let's see. It sounds like some changes are coming for Barcelona, which is encouraging. The current format of qualifying (three sessions) is good and something I wouldn't change. We just need to encourage the drivers and teams to be out on track and reward those who do so successfully and quickly. Something has to change; something will change. (Hopefully!)