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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?


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.


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.

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