Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

The end of qualifying? - The unintended consequences of tyre tactics on Saturday

Published by Steven Roy

We all saw the advantage Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton gained from saving more sets of new soft tyres than their rivals for the race. Webber as a result of failing to get out of Q1 where he used hard tyres had the penalty of starting near the back of the grid. After starting on hard tyres which caused him initially to go backwards he was able to switch to softs and using DRS pass most of the cars in front. As other drivers ran out of new tyres he gained pace relative to them and was able to pass cars to the point where he finished on the podium.

In Malaysia we saw Lewis Hamilton struggle late in the race on hard tyres. We later learned that he had asked for soft tyres but the team gave him hards presumably because they thought new hards would be better than scrubbed softs. Clearly Lewis learned from that and in Q3 in Shanghai he made only one qualifying run and ended up behind his team mate. Normally that would have been considered a tactical error but by the end of the race it looked like the kind of decision people are more likely to expect of Jenson Button rather than Lewis.

Clearly the rest of the grid will have learned from these two cases and will have come up with their own tactics by the time they get to Turkey. Logic suggests that drivers will seek to do fewer qualifying runs. The current qualifying system was introduced to stop the track being empty for large spells. It looks like the law of unintended consequences may strike and as a result Pirelli making marshmallow soft tyres that the way to get the best race result is to minimise qualifying runs and to save tyres for the race.

So we can look forward to the majority of drivers doing one run in Q1 although no doubt this will be mitigated by the tail-enders going out early to get on TV. No doubt traffic will be a huge issue and we can expect the odd big name to do a Webber. In Q2 there are fewer cars and therefore traffic is less of an issue. We can expect that no-one will go out early in this session and everyone will do one run at the end of the session. Once we get to Q3 there are all sorts of possibilities. Some drivers will run on old tyres just to be on track. Some will just sit in the garage because they have nothing to gain by burning tyres. We may even get into the situation where the top drivers run old or hard tyres and pole goes to someone like Petrov or di Resta because they are prepared to burn a set of new tyres for the better start position and the publicity that goes with it.

The one thing we can guarantee is Bernie and the TV companies are not going to be in favour of 10 minutes of empty track in 3 qualifying sessions. The law of unintended consequences meant that soft tyres that were supposed to replicate Canada 2010 may result in qualifying becoming virtually irrelevant and the track being empty for most of the time. That can only result in the qualifying format or rules being changed again.

Tricky thing the law of unintended consequences.