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Qualifying strategy - Fuel loads // Decisions made on a Saturday can affect the entire weekend

Published by Christine

This article was originally written for BellaOnline, but is republished here for posterity.

Formula 1 is all about a driver going as fast as he possibly can, with the equipment supplied to him by his team. However, on a race weekend, strategy plays an important part as well. One big element of strategy falls on the Saturday, if a driver gets into the third session of qualifying.

Anyone getting through to the top ten then has to complete the third session with the fuel load they will start the race with. This becomes the ultimate strategy choice.

If you go into qualifying with a light fuel load, you will (hopefully) be super quick and start far up the grid, maybe even from pole position. On race day, assuming you can keep your position, you will be able to scamper away at the front, and pull out a good lead for your first pit stop. However, this pit stop will come a lot earlier than the other drivers, and they will benefit from more rubber on the track as the conditions improve.

The other option is to fuel heavier in qualifying. You will most likely not get pole position, and will qualify somewhere down in the top ten. However, as the race goes on, the drivers in front of you will pit and fall behind, leaving you at the front. You will, by that time, be light, on good tyres and a good track. The possibility is there to put in a couple of fantastic laps, and pull out enough of a lead to jump your nearest rival when you come out of the pit lane.

Of course, none of this is taking into account any unexpected overtaking, weather conditions, or safety car conditions, and it’s these variables that make races so exciting. However, on paper, this is the choice that drivers are faced with each race weekend. Some drivers prefer one strategy over another, sometimes one is a better strategy at a particular circuit. Whether a team gives their top scoring driver the choice, or if they are given the better strategy automatically is a closely guarded secret, but it can often make the difference in a race.

There are people that don’t like this added element of qualifying, as you can’t tell who is purely the fastest driver on the day. It does mix things up a bit, though, and we can often see a starting grid we weren’t expecting.