The Monaco Debate: A Qualifying Circus?

Antony Herbert@LeeUwishWritingAnalyst IIIMay 10, 2010

This weekend sees the beauty that is Monte Carlo return to Formula 1 once again. The honoured tradition of glitz and glamour will be visible for all to witness both on and off the track.

Yet the undertones of such a glorified race weekend are gradually building to an eruption. Teams and drivers have been seen to bicker amongst themselves with regards to safety concerns and qualifying issues that they can foresee occurring.

Indeed we do now have a field of twenty-four, made up of twelve teams all competing at vastly different levels and capabilities. It is a stated fact that three of the twelve teams, and therefore a quarter of the pack, are some three to six seconds adrift. The deficit has become dependant on the track but in motor racing terms the three teams are light years behind.

Monaco as a result seems to pose an immediate problem.

With drivers able to complete a lap of the three and a half kilometre circuit in under eighty seconds the possibility of conflict becomes much  more of a crucial benefactor.

Debates have been held with the FIA and within the teams as to a move that would split the first part of qualifying into a two tier format. This format would allow the slower teams to set times apart from the rest of the field. This would enable the faster cars to be afforded more availability and a greater enhanced ability to achieve respectable lap-times that would be void of any cautious overtaking.

So is this a competent idea that should be bull dozed into fruition by the powers that be?

Or is it just a ludicrous idea that has been born out of paranoid mind frame that would consequentially undermine the efforts of the lesser able manufacturers?

Today I will have a look at the pros and cons for such an idea, and conclude as to whether it is really an outcome that would be needed for Saturdays impending qualifying session.

The Well Being Of Formula 1

Safety within Formula 1 has been a word I have associated much with the rookie teams this season.

It is fair to say that the three teams are not as equipped as they should have been. They are just unable to compete with the big boys at this moment in time.

Subsequently they pose an immediate threat to the continuing safety campaign that was forged in the aftermath of incidents such as Ayrton Senna’s death.

We have seen already this season the scenes that can unfold when a vastly quicker front-runner is left to drive beyond the realms of safety in order to combat a much slower back-marker.

Felipe Massa’s front wing in Spain knows exactly what I mean!

In Monaco’s first qualifying session there needs to be twenty-three margin points around the track. Therefore seeming as a lap time of seventy-five seconds is more than achievable by the front runners there will need to be margins of roughly 3.25 seconds between drivers in the first qualifying session.

This seems fair enough until you remember that Hispania, Virgin Racing and Lotus F1 all appear at times further off the pace than this.

Teams such as Red Bull, Mclaren, Mercedes and Ferrari would therefore only feel comfortable with a five or six second gap between themselves and the car ahead.

In the likely event that someone like Sebastian Vettel begins a lap three seconds shy of a rookie car there are various possible outcomes.

Either Vettel can surrender a crucial flying lap in an attempt to gift himself more space on the next opportunity. Or he can push as much as possible in the trust that the slower car will yield his position when the emerging Red Bull catches onto him like a moth to a flame.

If Vettel was to partake in the first event then he could risk another car on a flying lap hitting him from behind, and if he partook in the second event then he could either fly into the back of the slower car or just become impeded in an occurrence that could ruin his qualifying session.

In that event the slower car would face probable punishment, despite the inevitability that the situation requires more blame on the part of the car than on that of the driver.

Safety in this light seems paramount, and you can appreciate the viewpoint from front running teams that in Monaco it is an aspect that will need to be addressed, or at least discussed.

The Old Format

Another aspect that has been brought to our attention is the remembrance that the last time such a large number of drivers took part in qualifying, there was a full one hour session to set grid positions as opposed to just a twenty minute opening.

With the one hour sessions drivers were able to go out at a point of the session where traffic was never an issue. Every driver could set multiple flying laps throughout the session.

Obviously then in the current format this is not possible. A driver may only get one opportunity to shine, and at a track like Monaco where one mistake can prove more costly than at other tracks, the one opportunity gifted would be essential in its outcome.

Thinking Clearly

On the other hand maybe it just requires the teams to time their flying laps at a point where not every car is on the race track. If the likes of Red Bull and Mclaren are quicker by a second or two than the midfield runners, then they will not need to run at full pelt in the first session. They would only need to produce a lap time good enough to carry them through into session two.

This occurence is certainly not impossible and is a challenge that the teams could easily meet if they put their heart into it.

We have to remember that only seven cars exit at the end of the first stage of qualifying. With such an alarming deficit that the back three teams portray they are almost certain to provide six of these seven slots in most Grand Prix events.

Monaco provides slightly more optimistic and advantageous prospects for them if an alternative driver suffers a qualifying ending incident. Such an event could allow either of these six drivers the chance of edging into qualifying session number two.

So from this angle you must ponder whether the front running teams are just throwing an unnecessary tantrum at the idea that they will not be able to manoeuvre themselves through the first qualifying session.

Are they possibly worried that in the event of one of their own drivers, or even a midfield runner crashing at any point of the narrow and lethal circuit, that they could be left strung at the back of the grid for race day as they thought they had no room to improve?

If this is such then isn't this just a honest and tough luck aspect of Formula 1? Drivers and teams should never be allowed easy access to triumphant results. They must indeed fight for their reputations and not be handed it on a plate.

Twenty years ago qualifying was more focused on consistency, but now it relies more upon absolute brilliance on just one lap. In many ways the sport benefits as a result.

The Outcome?

It is for this reason that I would conclude that all twenty-four drivers should be thrust into the first part of qualifying on Saturday together.

If a team and their drivers wants to succeed then they will know how to succeed. The drivers should be accomplished enough to fulfil their part of the bargain by racing in a manner that does not hinder others.

We are now in an era where safety has improved by the bucket load. The drivers are able to circle the luxurious scenery of Monte Carlo with fewer costly, life risking errors than before and we can be comforted in the knowledge that the track appears willing to oblige with this.

It seems inevitable that many will kick up a fuss when the qualifying begins at the weekend. To be honest though this will probably still occur when the field is cut down to seventeen runners as the drivers will still only be afforded small gaps in space throughout the short circuit.

The FIA should therefore not feel threatened into a decision to allow a two tier opening session.

The drivers will simply just have to make do.


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