F1 qualifying format: What is the current system and what new trial is on the horizon?

Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez after Emilia Romagna GP sprint qualifying. Imola April 2022. Credit: Alamy
Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez after Emilia Romagna GP sprint qualifying. Imola April 2022. Credit: Alamy

F1 Qualifying is a key part of the F1 weekend, as it sets the grid order for where the cars will line up at lights out for Sunday’s grand prix.

In the 2023 season, the number of Sprint weekends will double from three to six, but qualifying remains as important as ever and, with it, the prestige of trying to become the driver to set the quickest lap with cars on low fuel, in the biggest test of outright pace of a race weekend.

Lewis Hamilton is by far and away Formula 1’s most successful ever driver in qualifying, being the only driver ever to score more than 100 pole positions in his career – with Michael Schumacher behind on 68 poles.

It is always one of the most entertaining parts of a race weekend, so let’s run through how a qualifying session in Formula 1 works.

F1 Qualifying format

A qualifying session totals one hour, comprised of three knockout sessions with short breaks in between.

Drivers are allowed to set as many timed laps as they like during each session, and as long as they have started a flying lap (crossed the start/finish line) before the chequered flag, they are allowed to finish the lap they are on.

This often leads to flying laps finishing a minute or so after the chequered flag in each session, but they count towards the qualifying session due to the lap having been started before the allotted session time ran out.

Q1: 18 minutes

The bottom five drivers are eliminated at the end of the session, with grid slots 16-20 locked into place, followed by an eight-minute break.

Q2: 15 minutes

The times for the remaining drivers are reset, and the bottom five drivers are eliminated again at the end of the session, with grid slots 11-15 locked into place, followed by a seven-minute break.

Q3: 12 minutes

The times are reset once again, and the remaining top 10 drivers are given an additional new set of soft tyres to enable them to set a fast flying lap in Q3.

The drivers then look to set the fastest time possible in the final session, with the times from Q3 setting the top 10 grid slots in order.

F1 Qualifying: What is the the 107% rule?

The 107% rule is in place for F1 qualifying to ensure that drivers must get to within 7% of the fastest Q1 time (that acting as 100%), to prove the cars and drivers are quick enough to race.

For example, for a 100-second fastest Q1 lap (1:40), the slowest driver needs to lap within 107 seconds (1:47), otherwise that driver would require FIA clearance to race on Sunday – though that is not always guaranteed.

The most recent exclusions for falling foul of the 107% rule came in 2012, when HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa were not allowed to contest the Australian Grand Prix for setting times at 108% of the fastest Q1 time.

The 107% rule does not apply when the track is declared wet during a qualifying session, however.

F1 Qualifying: What is the structure for Sprint races?

At six race weekends in 2023, the structure will be altered to include ‘standard’ qualifying on a Friday, before a Sprint takes place on the Saturday.

On these weekends, the regular qualifying session takes place as normal on Friday instead of its traditional Saturday slot, which forms the grid for Saturday’s Sprint – the official weekend pole position going to the driver who starts first in the Sprint for the fastest lap in ‘standard’ qualifying.

The Sprint will then take place over a one-third race distance, the results of which then form the grid for Sunday’s race.

The top eight finishers in the Sprint also score points on these weekends, with eight going to the P1 finisher, losing a point for each place down to one for P8.

Sprint weekends for Formula 1 in 2023 are as follows:

April 28-30: Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku
June 30-July 2: Austrian Grand Prix, Spielberg
July 28-30: Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps
October 6-8: Qatar Grand Prix, Lusail
October 20-22: United States Grand Prix, Austin
November 3-5: Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Interlagos

F1 Qualifying: What is the new format being trialed in F1 2023?

At two races in the 2023 season, Formula 1 confirmed its intention to run a trial of a new format, in which the Q1, Q2 and Q3 sessions would remain, but only certain compounds of tyres will be allowed to be used, in an attempt to reduce the number of sets of tyres the teams use over the course of a weekend.

This test will entail drivers only being allowed to use hard tyres in Q1, medium tyres in Q2 and soft tyres in Q3, but the rounds at which these trials will take place are yet to be confirmed.

Grid penalties

Drivers carrying a grid penalty into a race weekend for an infringement from a previous weekend, or taking power unit parts beyond their allocations triggering a penalty in qualifying, can qualify as normal.

Any penalties are applied after the session finishes, meaning the starting grid can sometimes differ from the qualifying order.

Read next: F1 points system explained: How can drivers score points in F1 2023?

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