Drivers Divided on Qualifying Proposals

Although it is widely expected that the much criticised one-lap qualifying system will be dropped for next year, some drivers would actually like to retain the one car at a time format in order to avoid being caught in traffic

Drivers Divided on Qualifying Proposals

Fans have been asked to vote on two new suggestions as well as for the current system, and although both of the proposals include qualifying on low fuel, something that is supported by most of the drivers, neither of them specifies a pre-determined running order for the cars.

When asked during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend about which of the two proposals he would like to see in use next season, 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve answered: "Neither actually. I like the one lap qualifying, I don't like it with fuel, and I think we should have two goes at it so then you can really push hard. But one lap means you don't have traffic.

"Everybody thinks qualifying used to be fantastic but how many times did you come back to the pits saying 'ah, there was a yellow flag' or 'there was traffic' and it just created... and then for half an hour there were no cars on the track. It wasn't that good."

Until 2002 drivers could do as many as 12 laps during a one-hour qualifying, with no restrictions on when to go out on the track. Although this usually provided little action at the first half of the session, it was still considerably more popular amongst the fans than the different variations of the one-lap format.

However the key point in changing qualifying seems not to be the number of laps or the running order, but the fuel load. Under current regulations that don't permit refuelling between qualifying and the race, the relative performances of the cars is masked by the different fuel loads.

"Now what is confusing is you qualify with fuel so you ask 'is it a good lap?', 'is it the strategy?', and you can't really push to the limit because a mistake means you'll start last," Villeneuve pointed out. "So if you just had two goes at one lap without fuel it would be perfect."

Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella agreed. "It is good to have the one lap qualifying but it would be nice to drive without fuel," he said.

"The old format was nice because of the fuel load, it was nice for some reasons but obviously sometimes there were red or yellow flags, a lot of traffic, but there were a few chances to do a good lap. Now it is just one chance, and it is not easy."

Championship contender Kimi Raikkonen also made it clear he preferred the one-lap format but with low fuel load, while Briton Jenson Button added that however popular the old system was amongst the fans, from the driver's point of view it could be a struggle.

"I prefer one lap, for me it is a lot more exciting, and I think only getting one chance is good," Button said. "For the viewers, when we had four qualifying runs or twelve laps, maybe it is a bit more exciting to watch, but it was so frustrating for the drivers to get a good lap in.

"One lap qualifying is good and you also get to see everyone's laps which is quite interesting."

No Return to Old System

Toyota's Jarno Trulli, widely regarded as one of the best qualifiers on the grid, would be happy to go back to the old multi-lap qualifying, but it seems that it's not really amongst the options for 2006.

One of the proposals listed on Formula One's official website is a 60-minute session split into two halves with a 10-minute break between them. Drivers could do as many laps as they wish, but should set a time in each half, and their best laptimes from the two would be added together to determine the grid for the race.

The other suggestion is more controversial. This would also see a one-hour session, but with drivers being allowed to do as many laps as they want in the first 15 minutes, after which the five slowest cars would be restricted from further running (these would start from the 16th to 20th places on the grid).

In the next 15 minutes another five cars would drop out in the same way, while the last half-hour would see the drivers competing for the first ten places on the grid without any restrictions on the number of laps or the amount of fuel.

Although it's not clear if the voting will have a direct effect on the system to be used next season, David Coulthard, a veteran of 186 Grands Prix, made it clear he didn't like the second proposal.

"I don't like the idea of the five cars dropping out. Therefore I prefer the half-hour qualifying added together, but I prefer not to have the aggregate times," he said.

However Coulthard admitted that just like Trulli, he would be happy to return to the old multi-lap format, even if traffic might make it hard to set a competitive laptime.

"I would, because I think that part of the skill is to avoid the traffic," he noted. "The team and you have to work together to help with that, and I think it adds to the excitement as well."

McLaren driver Juan-Pablo Montoya stated he "would rather have four laps" during qualifying, but seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher said that the worst way is to keep changing the format all the time.

"The main thing I keep saying is that there will not be any fix which will satisfy everyone," he pointed out.

"Unfortunately we all have different opinions and one likes one way, and the other one likes another way, spectators, drivers, team owners, whoever. The worst thing we can do is keep on changing. That's the only thing I can say about that."

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