Australian Grand Prix Qualifying

Today was the debut of Formula 1’s new qualifying rules. The result? An embarrassing mess.

That this weekend’s race is in Australia makes it a bit impractical for us Europeans to watch it live. I wasn’t really planning to get up at 7 in the morning for the qualifying session, but when the Heir to the Throne decided that a quarter past six was a great time to start the day, I decided to make the most of it and to watch how the new qualifying rules would work in practice. I was, after all, pretty sure they would lead to some thrilling racing during the qualifying sessions.

Boy, was I wrong!

Q1 started out like we’d all hoped, with a lot of cars on track from the beginning. But did it ever become more exciting than qualifying used to be with the old rules? No. If anything, it turned out even more anti-climatic. With over five minutes left of the last qualifying session, several of the drivers left their cars in the pits because it simply wasn’t anything to gain from going out again. If you ask me, that’s a massive insult to the spectators on the track who paid good money to watch the qualifying sessions. It only lasts for an hour, including breaks between the sessions, and to deprive the spectators of over a third of the final, 14 minutes long session is a shame. As a driver, you could at least sit in your car in the pit box and pretend you give a shit.

New F1 Qualifying Rules. Hot or Not?

A few posts ago I complained that Formula 1 needs to change to make it more exciting and entertaining again, but feared that the old farts in FIA move too slow to make real changes anytime soon. Now I stand firmly corrected.

Last week it was decided to throw out the old rules covering the qualifying sessions in F1, and introduce new ones. Some elements of the old rules are retained, but F1 qualifying is now moving from a system where the X fastest drivers at the end of a session would be able to join the next session, to a knockout system. I don’t know of any other motorsports where this system is used – but I’m not terribly familiar with anything except for F1 and Formula E, so there might be plenty.

Qualifying will still be split into three sessions, like today: Q1, Q2, and finally, Q3. Q1 will last for 16 minutes, and all cars are allowed on track. The slowest driver will be eliminated after 7 minutes, and have to return to the pit lane. Then, cars are eliminated at 8m30s, 10m0s, 11m30s, 13m0s and 14m30s until 16 cars remain. The same procedure will be used in Q2, but that session is 1 minute shorter than Q1, meaning that the first car will be eliminated after 6 minutes, the next one after 7m30s, and so on. At the end of Q2, 9 cars remain, and these cars will be allowed to run in Q3. That session is an additional minute shorter, 14 minutes, with the first car being eliminated after 5 minutes, the next after 6m30s, and so on. In all three sessions, all remaining drivers may complete a flying lap if they have crossed the line in time. This also applied with the old qualifying rules. At the end of Q3, the final classification is established.

The new rules will be effective from the first race of the 2016 season, which is Australia’s Melbourne Grand Prix next weekend. The rules will get everyone on the track at the same time, and keep drivers, pit crew, stewards, and the commentators busy. Hamilton or Rosberg will probably start from pole position with the new rules as well, but hopefully, the changes will give the audience the entertainment they deserve. We’ll probably see some proper racing during the qualifying sessions, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that some drivers will complain about being blocked to the stewards. How well these new rules will work in practice, remains to be seen, but I, for one, am pretty excited.

F1 2016

It’s time for what has turned into my annual Formula 1 post. I used to write quite a lot about the series, but 2015 season was one long yawn and didn’t feel much like something to waste precious time writing about. Mercedes pretty much dominated the entire season from start to finish, and my life long nemesis, Lewis Hamilton, brought home yet another World Championship title. That Sebastian Vettel managed to claw his way to third place didn’t really help much, he was literately miles behind Hamilton. But the biggest disappointment of 2015 was McLaren and poor Fernando Alonso. My favorite driver and double World Champion finished 17th in 2015, with a lousy 11 points.

We’re about a month away from the inegrual race of the 2016 season, the Australian Grand Prix. Will changes to the technical and sporting regulations, cars, power units, teams and driver lineups make this season more entertaining than last year’s? One thing is for sure, at least: With Bernie‘s extreme commitment to force as much money out of his F1 franchise as humanly possible before he steps down dies1, 2016 will see a record breaking 21 Formula 1 races around the world. Among the locations are the new Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan.

Formula 1 2015

We’re only a few days away from the first race of the 2015 Formula 1 season! As usual, the season starts in Melbourne, Australia, at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit around Albert Park Lake. The ramp up to the 2015 season has been quite dramatic, with events like a mysterious crash during the Barcelona pre-season test and an on-going court battle between a driver who wants to race for a team that thinks letting him race might result in someone getting killed.

As always, there have been some driver and team changes since the 2014 season ended, including two high profile driver moves: Sebastian Vettel has left my favorite team, Red Bull Racing, for my second favorite team, Scuderia Ferrari. Vettel’s Red Bull exit comes after fifteen years with the team and its wider junior development program. The guy is only 27 years old, so it’s safe to credit Red Bull for Vettel’s success as a Formula 1 driver. Russian Daniil Kvyat has been promoted to Red Bull Racing from Toro Rosso to fill the seat vacated by Vettel.

What made room for Vettel at Ferrari, was Fernando Alonso‘s move to McLaren, where he – unfortunately – replaced talented Danish driver Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen is now demoted to test and reserve driver for McLaren. In my honest, but most likely unpopular, opinion, McLaren would have been better off replacing their other driver, Jenson Button. Button is getting close to the end of his career in Formula 1, he is really not a top tier driver and Magnussen is a huge talent that McLaren should nourish. Keeping him on the team as test and reserve driver is the second best option, but unless he is given a permanent racing seat next seasons, my prediction is that he will go to another team, which will be a great loss for McLaren.

FIA Formula E

There are still a few weeks left until the 2015 Formula 1 seasons starts. Until then, there’s a brand new FIA Formula series where it’s all down to the drivers and where engine sound really isn’t an issue: Formula E.

Formula E, like Formula 1, is all about open-wheel, open cockpit racing. The Formula E series also travels around the world, visiting major cities like Beijing and London, and famous venues like the Monaco street circuit. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end and the differences begin. Unlike Formula 1, all the Formula E drivers have to use the same car design, the Spark-Renault SRT_01E. This keeps the cost for the teams low, since they don’t have to use billions of dollars on car R&D. Also, it makes the driver a lot more important than in Formula 1: Since all the Formula E drivers have more or less the same car, a Formula E race is a test of the drivers’ skills, not a test of the team’s R&D department. In Formula 1, a crappy driver can perform miracles in a great car, in Formula E, not so much. This is one of the reasons why I’ve started to favor other racing series where the vehicles are made from the same mold, like the GP2 series, over Formula 1.

But where Formula E really stands out from Formula 1 – and every other professional racing series – is the Spark-Renault SRT_01E’s engine. It’s electric (something you might have already gathered from the “E” in “Formula E”.) The old farts running FIA have actually taken a few steps towards the future, and launched a racing series with electric cars.