This year, Formula One is making a break with history at this weekend’s British Grand Prix. F1 will be introducing a new weekend format that includes a second race in addition to the main race day event. Making it the first time in history that the Grand Prix will feature a so-called ‘Sprint Qualifying’ which is a shorter 100km half-hour long race on Saturday afternoon that will set the grid for Sunday’s main race. On the eve of the upcoming race at Silverstone, we look back on how the qualifying format for the Grand Prix pole has changed over the decades.
1950-1996: Two-session format
Earlier in the pre-war days, grid order was decided by drawing lots. But ever since the world championship began in 1950, pole position has been awarded to the quickest driver in the practice/qualifying round. Few changes were made in late 1980’s to early 1990’s, but the system remained the same with the fastest overall time would start at the pole.
1996-2002: One-hour shootout
F1 tweaked the rules and it was decided by a solo one-hour session in which drivers had to race a maximum of 12 laps to set the best possible time. In 2002, the format was briefly changed to a two-hour single-lap shootout, where each driver ran a single timed lap alone. However, it was eventually reduced to one hour as the teams complained of long periods in the pit lanes/garages for the racing line to clear up.
2003: One-lap qualifying
As a solution for the teams to avoid spending longer periods in the garages, F1 introduced a single-lap format to decide the grid. Friday’s running would determine the order for Saturday, and a solo flying lap the following day would determine the order for the race. The system continued with a few tweaks in the 2004 season as well, before being totally replaced altogether.
2005: Aggregate qualifying
Qualifying rules changed once again, this time making them a Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning affair. Drivers would set times in both sessions, with Saturday’s times on low fuel, while Sunday’s with race fuel on board, and both times were then added together to set the grid order. However, these changes proved to be massively unpopular and it lasted just six races. For the remainder of races of the season, each driver would set a single flying lap on Saturday afternoon, with the order determined by finishing position in the previous race.
2006-2009: Advent of elimination
After experimenting with one-lap showdowns to decide the grid, F1 drew up a new three-part qualifying system. While the new format eliminated the slower lot in each segment until 10 were left to fight out for the pole position. However, drivers who advanced to Q3 had to qualify with their starting fuel loads and a complicated fuel credit system. Which meant they often had to spend several laps burning fuel to get more back for the race. The following years (2008/09) the three-part system was tweaked so that the teams could no longer add fuel after Q3, thus ending the ‘fuel burning’ phase.
2010: Three sessions
F1’s present qualifying format was introduced in 2010 and it has essentially remained the same, albeit with few tweaks. The new qualifying format comprising three sessions and a final 10-driver fight for pole - went unchanged for six seasons.
2016: Elimination qualifying
From this season on, drivers had a five-minute window in each of the three qualifying rounds. This allowed them to set a time, however, after that point, the slowest driver was eliminated every 90 seconds. From the lot of 22 entries, 15 advanced to Q2 and then eight into Q3. While big names rapidly improved their times on the track, it boiled down to until there were just two drivers fighting it out for the pole position. This system was scrapped after two races and F1 was compelled to bring back the current qualifying round.