Formula 1 question.
August 5, 2008 4:13 PM   Subscribe

Formula 1 question regarding qualifying fuel requirements.

Let me ask something. Why is there a fuel requirement in q3? What would be the problem of running q3 just like q2? The fastest 10 cars from q2 move on to q3. Then, they go for pole. They can do whatever they want with fuel. Just like in q2. Then on race day, they can do whatever they want with their fuel load for the race.

The way it is currently, you never really know who is fastest. In q1 and q2, the top 4 or 5 cars don't go for spot number 1, they just make sure they are safely out of the knockout zone. So you don't know who is really fastest. And in q3, the fuel is always a consideration. Maybe the guy who got pole only got it because he is super-light on fuel.

And I don't really see what you get out of it. What's the payoff? Why do the fuel thing at all in q3? What is the up side? Maybe there is a good reason, but I can't think of it.

I'm interested in any opinions as well. If you don't know the reason, but have a guess, or have a reason that you like the way it is, let me know that too.
posted by gummo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total)
Best answer: formula 1 constantly juggles the rules to make the sport as entertaining as possible. it's entertainment, not a carefully designed experiment to find the fastest car.

that rule helps ensure that the lead changes by encouraging someone to run light on fuel in qualifying (as you point out) and so lead the race initially, before pitting.

and changing lead car is not just more entertaining, it gives broader exposure to advertisers.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 4:24 PM on August 5, 2008

Then on race day, they can do whatever they want with their fuel load for the race.

This bit is wrong. The team fuels the car at the start of Q3, then whatever is left after qualifying is what is carried into the race. So you're making a decision for two things at once, how light the car will be during qualifying vs how long before the first pit stop. It's a tricky balance and leads to the issues you've seen where cars aren't optimally fuelled for one of those two events. Official word here under qualifying.

The rules changes are done for two reasons, firstly to make it more interesting to watch and secondly to keep down the price of the sport. Things like limiting the number of tyre sets and engine changes are aimed at making running a team less expensive. This means that smaller teams find it easier to stay in business and that the bigger teams can't just outright buy an advantage. I think that sometimes the meddling goes too far and it's always controversial.
posted by shelleycat at 5:00 PM on August 5, 2008

Passing is always a rarity in an F1 race and by making sure the top 10 have varying fuel loads it seems to ensure at least a pass or two before pit stops occur. It also keeps the best engineered car from going out extremely light on fuel to get the pole, then filling up before the race to pull a one stop run.

If you look at the practice charts (the f1 site on is good for that) and listen to the commentary on the qualifying show and the prerace, you can usually get a good handle on who are really the fastest and who is trying fuel/tire strategy. The guys on SPEED channel are pretty on the money when it comes to that.

And what the other guys said.
posted by sciatica at 6:22 PM on August 5, 2008

Shellycat is essentially right, but for the wrong reason. They want to have all the teams take Q1 Q2 and Q3 seriously, more seriously than just beating up on the slow cars. By requiring race fuel in Q3, ostensibly this can put your Q3 time at a disadvantage, unless you plan to pit fairly quickly. (I did see Michael Schumacher make 4 pit stops when everyone else made 2 or 3, and he won handily, and not just because he was a bit lighter).

Oh, and there's plenty of passing, just not as much as you'd expect. If you put the fastest car in front, and the slowest car in back, and make it challenging to pass, how much passing do you expect? One of the team owners had a GREAT idea, why not just arrange the grid in reverse order of who's leading in the points? Then you'd see plenty of passes. Accidents, too, would be my guess.
posted by skybolt at 6:28 PM on August 5, 2008

Passing is always a rarity in an F1 race and by making sure the top 10 have varying fuel loads it seems to ensure at least a pass or two before pit stops occur.

That's the expectation, but, F Massa's stunning move to overtake L Hamilton at turn one of last weekend's event notwithstanding, more overtaking occurs in the middle of the pack and in the pits, than occurs out in front.

I'm really curious to see if next year's rule changes will make the races more sporting. More mechanical grip (slick tires), less aerodynamic grip (or down force), and the gimmicky, but still cool, Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) "push to pass" power boost gizmos should make for more racing and less parading.
posted by notyou at 6:36 PM on August 5, 2008

Best answer: A great question!

Prior to the past couple of years, there was no fuel requirement in the Q3 session; you basically ran as light as you possibly could for one "golden" lap on your tires (this was also prior to the new tire rules that mandate the harder/softer compounds).

Teams all figured out the most optimal strategy: go out with about 5 minutes left in Q3, go through a "fuel burn" period where you would burn off excess fuel and heat up the tires to the most optimal temperature, and then do their flying lap just before the end of the qualifying session.

So what you would see would be 10 minutes of absolutely nothing happening on track, and then a flurry of activity. It made for a very... disjointed qualifying session, with really not a whole lot of drama.

Now, you may ask "well, hell, Mister Ecclestone, how is Q3 any different now?" and the answer is not very much. Teams still tend to sandbag it until a few minutes to go, then go out and do their golden lap. There's little the FIA can do to stop this, short of mandating that every car is on track at all times, and that's a ridiculous idea. However, the idea of declaring your race fuel load does add extra drama into Saturdays. Are you willing to suffer a couple of tenths in order to get that longer first stint? What about on an extremely-difficult-to-pass track like this past week in Budapest, or on an impossible-to-pass track like Monaco?

If you ask me, the way to make qualifying much more exciting would be to make the driver's qualifying time an average over a certain number of laps (based upon the track length, session time, etc). That would ensure that the fans get to see Lewis for a longer period of time on Saturday, which (I think) is the point.
posted by mark242 at 11:03 PM on August 5, 2008


I'm really curious to see if next year's rule changes will make the races more sporting.

You and just about every second-tier team manager are in the same boat, amiright?

Seriously though, KERS is likely not going to be mandated in 2009. The technology is still way, way too alpha stage right now. A mechanic (BMW, I think?) got put in the hospital from a nasty shock from the Li ion batteries, and another team (Renault?) had to evacuate their facility (!) because of hazardous conditions. Until the FIA can sign off that the technology is absolutely safe in the cars in even the worst crash conditions (Timo Glock, anyone?) there's no way the teams will allow the batteries into the cars. The teams have quite a bit of leverage when they all band together like they've been doing over this new tech and how it's still in its infancy.

Also, I have my doubts about whether or not the reduced aero package is going to make for more passing. Cars may very well be able to get a decent tow going down a straight, but that still doesn't make that big of a difference on tracks where it is supremely difficult to pass. If you saw last week's race at Budapest you know what I mean; this is why Fernando's pass on M.Schumacher in (I want to say 2006) was so epic. He passed on the outside in Hungary! That just isn't possible!

In a sport where cars are so evenly matched as to be within tenths of a second going around a 2-3 mile track, it's never going to be easy to pass, and you'll never see the kind of passing you see in, say, the IRL, where the cars are completely mismatched and so utterly dependent upon crappy tires. Starting the points leaders at the back of the grid doesn't really solve the problem either, because imagine a Monaco race with the two Sebastians, Kaz Nakajima, Fisi, Adrian Sutil, etc etc etc all in front of Lewis. Now imagine Ron Dennis having a coronary because Lewis just can't make a pass because it's impossible to pass at Monaco.
posted by mark242 at 11:23 PM on August 5, 2008

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