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107 Per Cent
Ryan Gault

Ryan is one of those people who follow every sport going, from football to speedway and golf to ice hockey. He has followed Formula 1 for as long as he can remember, which just so happens to be the 2001 US Grand Prix, Mika Häkkinen's last ever win. Since then he has followed the tribulations of the greatest Swiss team since he heard about Grasshoppers Zürich, Sauber. Currently studying Journalism at the University of Huddersfield, while also attempting to write about TV and Eurovision.

107 and a bit per cent // Is there a use to a regulation if it is only enforced a fifth of the time?

Published

The whole concept of the name of this column is based on everyone’s favourite qualifying rule, 107%, brought back in for the 2011 season so the new teams couldn’t end up so slow to annoy everyone else on the track (not that stopped Karthikeyan and Vettel). It’s a distinctive reference to the traditional backmarkers, something that only they are careful to avoid and generally, they succeed.

Falling behind

There was absolute joy when the 107% rule was brought back in. Finally the three new teams couldn’t waltz around at the back like they were auditioning for Strictly Come Dancing, and instead had to act as if they were Formula 1 cars. HRT were the first team to fall victim to the 107% in the Australian Grand Prix of 2011, hardly a surprise with practically no testing under their belt.

And then the 107% rule might as well have not existed. Narain Karthikeyan and Vitantonio Liuzzi didn’t set a lap time in qualifying in Monaco and were spared. D’Ambrosio failed in Canada, and then again in Belgium with Liuzzi and Daniel Ricciardo. Liuzzi faltered again in Japan, Ricciardo missed the mark in Korea, and even Glock was short in India. In 2011 alone, that’s a total of eight times the stewards bailed out the drivers and allowed them to race.

The garage - where they belong?
The garage - where they belong?Credit: HRT Formula One Team

Although HRT missed the Australian race this season due to the 107% rule, they were once again granted a reprieve in Spain with Karthikeyan well off the pace having only set one time.

Excuses, excuses

The set rule is simple, and has been applied in every occasion apart from the three in Belgium (who were granted entry due to the changeable conditions affecting their lap times, which we’ll happily get onto later) - if you set a lap time within 107% of the qualifying time in practice, you’re good to race. This idea comes with many flaws, not least the fact that practice and qualifying are two different things entirely. I hate to bring up a Eurovision reference, but they effectively have two finals, one where the juries vote and one where the public votes. The two are combined, but they are effectively commenting on two separate performances. Likewise with the F1, a bad performance on one day can seriously affect the rest of your weekend.

Aside from technical issues, there is no reasonable excuse to let them race

Granted, you have second and third, and even fourth chances to make it up. But if you are unable to make 107% in qualifying, and don’t have a damn good excuse, there is no way you should be allowed to enter the race on the following day. Karthikeyan had a reasonable excuse, claiming safety issues after a spin during his first and only run in the session. Although if there was an issue, you do question if it was safe to let him back out for the race. But aside from technical issues (worth noting drivers like Schumacher, Kamui Kobayashi and Nico Rosberg relied on this back in 2011), there is no reasonable excuse to let them race.

Then the weather excuse, even the Sporting Regulations don’t list this as an example (clearly making the decision at the discretion of the stewards) in the 107% article 36.1.

36.1

During Q1, any driver whose best qualifying lap exceeds 107% of the fastest time set during that session, or who fails to set a time, will not be allowed to take part in the race. Under exceptional circumstances however, which may include setting a suitable lap time in a free practice session, the stewards may permit the car to start the race.

Should there be more than one driver accepted in this manner, the grid order will be determined by the stewards.

- Sporting Regulations 2012

It does mention ‘exceptional circumstances’, and a strange reason that three drivers couldn’t improve their time while everyone else did seems very strange. If they couldn’t improve along with everyone else, why should they be given the special dispensation when they are clearly in contradiction of the rules and effectively endangering all of the drivers.

The rule has been put in place for a reason, but the FIA are highly reluctant to enforce it. It does reflect badly if a car doesn’t make the grid if they are simply too slow, but the higher precedent is danger. In the previous race, Jenson Button made a meal of overtaking Narain Karthikeyan because of his speed, a situation Sebastian Vettel found himself on the receiving end of in Malaysia, resulting in his eventual disappointing performance.

The old days

The FIA were far more rigorous in their application of it on the slow drivers and cars

In the first run of the 107% rule, from 1996 to 2002, the FIA were far more rigorous in their application of it on the slow drivers and cars. If we ignore the various times when teams effectively forfeited qualifying due to them running out of money and on the brink of leaving the sport (Forti during the British Grand Prix in 1996 and Arrows during the 2002 French Grand Prix), the ‘exceptional circumstances’ term was used a mere 13 times out of 33 infractions, which is a 60.6% rate of enforcement. In comparison, since 2011, where 20 drivers have fell foul to it, all but four have been allowed to race, a 20% enforcement ratio (that’s including the good drivers who crash out, or like Lewis Hamilton, have their time deleted, if we ignore that, it’s a 28.6% enforcement ratio).

Ah, the days when drivers were slow and weren’t allowed to race, they were nice, weren’t they? (I don’t remember it, but I presume it was nice.) The last driver to fall foul of it before it was scrapped was in 2002, with the rather unspectacular Alex Yoong being outside the 107% for the third time that season. He was such a regular he might as well have tried to gain citizenship in it.

It’s scrapping paved the way for the two lap qualification system in 2003, and it’s eventual reintroduction should have carried on in the same vein since it was scrapped. Alas not, and the three new teams (well, these days, just HRT) could get away with just walking around the track.




  • I always saw it as a soft rule and would never really be taken to the letter. A bit like saying, "you should try to be at least this fast at some point during the weekend."

    Mike K

  • The 107% Rule isn't really 107%. Just think how many more would be outside the 107% rule if the fastest cars were running soft tires in Q1. I'm betting Marussia and Caterham would have a tough time as well.

  • The 107% Rule isn't really 107%. Just think how many more would be outside the 107% rule if the fastest cars were running soft tires in Q1. I'm betting Marussia and Caterham would have a tough time as well.

    Excellent point. It would be worth looking at how many drivers would fall foul if it was from the Q3 time, for example.

  • Excellent point. It would be worth looking at how many drivers would fall foul if it was from the Q3 time, for example.

    Not many I shouldn't think. In regular sessions, the HRT's have generally been 1-2.5 seconds inside the 107% rule - bar Australia, which was, frankly, an exceptional case.

    Qualifying is merely an official FP4 and therefore utilised to set the grid. There's no reason to stop a entrant from running if they are well inside the 107% in FP2 for example - that's being petty for the sake of it.

    As for the danger argument, I don't buy that at all. It's an easy excuse, but not particularly valid; especially when multi-class format's such as the WEC, ALMS, Grand-Am and the various GT championship's exist with cars of hugely different paces and technology.

    The HRT's are going to race and are generally only being lapped twice, so I don't see a problem with how 107% rule is being applied at the moment. If anything, 107% rule is perfect as it is.

    With that in mind, I'm not entirely sure why there is such an issue with the team? Is their ultimate pace desirable? Not really. The 107% rule was finally regulated by the likes of Forti, Pacific (etc) were 8-12 seconds off the pace in every session.

    Is HRT's pace good enough for F1? Well, right now, yes it is. No matter how many cars are in the field, someone has to be the slowest and right now, that happens to be the Spanish team with not many sponsors.

  • Alex Yoong being outside the 107% for the third time that season. He was such a regular he might as well have tried to gain citizenship in it.

    hehe!

    i think the 107% rule is essential to prevent F1 teams falling into GP2 territory. without a relegation system to drop underperforming teams (and bring in potentially better ones), F1 needs to ensure those in the game keep up with the rest.

    why it isn't applied more diligently is beyond me.

  • I agree with Leigh, apart from the comparison to sportscars - you can't have open wheel cars of vastly different speeds on the same track at the same time. However you shouldn't prevent a car from racing if it has proven to be fast enough in most other sessions that weekend. I don't like that they start from the grid though - you qualify for the grid, if you fail to qualify but are let in you should start from the pits.

    The idea of 107% is to weed out dangerously unsafe cars and/or drivers, not those who are fine in most sessions but who had a bad lap on Saturday afternoon.

    However the qualifying test shouldn't be the end of it. They should continue to test them in the race. If in the race for example the HRTs are let in on Saturday, but on Sunday they are still outside 107% of the race leader (or say 110% to allow for tyre strategies), for more times than not over a 10 lap period, black flag them.

  • However the qualifying test shouldn't be the end of it. They should continue to test them in the race. If in the race for example the HRTs are let in on Saturday, but on Sunday they are still outside 107% of the race leader (or say 110% to allow for tyre strategies), for more times than not over a 10 lap period, black flag them.

    i like this idea.

  • However the qualifying test shouldn't be the end of it. They should continue to test them in the race. If in the race for example the HRTs are let in on Saturday, but on Sunday they are still outside 107% of the race leader (or say 110% to allow for tyre strategies), for more times than not over a 10 lap period, black flag them.

    Has this ever really happened though? HRT's race pace is actually quite decent - in fact, they tend to be closer to the leading pack on pace during the Grand Prix.

    I stand by my sportscar comparison though. Some will shout out for safety reasons, when realistically they don't apply and endurance racing is a perfect example of how cars of vastly different speeds can work on the same circuit at the same time, as long as the drivers are not stupid*.

    {*a note}

    I consider the two big Audi crashes at Le Mans last year to have been a pair of blinding stupid moves by McNish and Rocky.

  • i like this idea.

    Alternatively, because the pace of the race may be constantly changing (varying tyres / fuel combinations), why not set apply some sort of benchmark time based on practice running from Friday and Saturday.

    Theoretically, one could apply a rule whereby entrants that fall out of 107% of the benchmark on a consistent basis would be liable to be black flagged.

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