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Qualifying strategy - Last minute laps // Leaving it to the last minute can reap rewards on a Saturday

Published by Christine

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

There are many elements that affect where a driver qualifies on the Saturday of a Grand Prix weekend. The speed of his car, whether the driver has everything setup to his liking, and in the final session, how much fuel is in the car.

Outside of the car, though, there are still strategic decisions to be made that can make all the difference to a drivers performance during qualifying.

The three sessions of qualifying get shorter as they get more important, so the window of opportunity to squeeze in a fast lap is smaller the nearer you get to the top ten. During the first session, there are twenty minutes to choose when to set a lap time. Most drivers will head out of the garage to get at least one time on the board. For those cars that are on the pace, this will usually be enough to guarantee them a place in the next round, but the chances are they will set another lap nearer the end of the session.

The plus side to waiting towards the end of the session, is that the more cars that have been out on track, the more rubber is down on the circuit and the faster the lap times will be. However, if you wait until the dying moments of the session to post your only time of the day, you are running the risk of making a mistake and being knocked out.

The other problem occurs with traffic. It's all very well waiting until the last few minutes to put in your flying lap, but if every other driver is doing the same thing, then it gets pretty crowded out on track. Although a driver will try his best not to get in the way of another, for fear of penalty, it does happen, and the more traffic that is out there, the more chance of a lap being ruined. As each session passes by, there are less cars out on track, and therefore less traffic, but of course, there are less minutes to get your lap completed in.

Patterns we are starting to see in F1 include Force India heading out early in any sessions they are in (they usually don't make it out of Q1), whilst BMW will always wait as long as possible before leaving the garages. They quite often bypass the banker laps, as well, which is taking quite a risk.

Next time you sit down and watch qualifying, take a look at who comes out when and see if you can spot any patterns.