How does F1 qualifying work? Format, rules and Sprint
Your complete guide to F1 qualifying, including details about the format and rules.
In order to be in with the best chance of taking the chequered flag on race day, a good qualifying performance is absolutely essential.
The F1 race weekend truly gets under way on Saturday afternoon with drivers discovering in around 60 minutes where they will be starting on the grid, as they try to set the fastest lap times.
With overtaking a difficult task due to the width of the modern F1 car, a strong display on Saturday is essential in order to be successful in the race.
Legendary Argentine racer Juan Manuel Fangio took the first-ever pole position in F1 with his Alfa Romeo 158 at the 1950 British Grand Prix and in the following 72 years, qualifying sessions have provided almost as much drama as the races themselves.
The format of qualifying has been tweaked over the years and currently takes place in a three-stage “knockout” with the top ten drivers all competing for pole position.
RadioTimes.com brings you all the details you need to know about F1 qualifying.
How does the F1 weekend work?
Drivers usually arrive on Thursday to undertake a day of media ahead of the race weekend. Then, Friday is when the on-track action commences.
There are two free practice sessions on Friday afternoon with teams getting some valuable lap times under their belts ahead of qualifying and race day.
Engineers and data analysts can observe the performance of the cars in these sessions and relay to the drivers what is good and bad. The car can be adjusted accordingly while strategies for qualifying the race can also be decided.
Tyre degradation and aerodynamic performance are just two of the factors considered while drivers will look to learn the circuits once more – usually 12 months after they have last raced there.
A third free practice takes place on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon to decide the starting grid order.
Sunday morning will see a short warm-up session before the Grand Prix, set over a pre-determined number of laps, commences in the early afternoon.
How does F1 qualifying work?
Qualifying is split into three stages with five drivers knocked out in each of the first two sessions before the top ten drivers battle for pole.
This format was introduced in 2006 and has been in place ever since with a few minor tweaks here and there.
All drivers on the grid will have 18 minutes to set their lap times in the first qualifying session, with the five slowest drivers eliminated – they will start 16th to 20th on the grid.
Lap times are then reset before qualifying two gets under way a few minutes later. This is a slightly shortened session at 15 minutes with the next five slowest drivers eliminated. They start between 11th and 15th.
Finally, the third session will determine who starts on pole. Once again, all lap times are reset ahead of a 12-minute shootout with the top ten on the grid determined thereafter.
What is F1 Sprint qualifying?
The Sprint qualifying/race format was introduced for selected races back in 2021 and has added a new dimension to the F1 weekend.
Qualifying which usually takes place on Saturday is shifted back to Friday evening. Then, Sprint qualifying, which is a shortened version of an F1 race, takes its place on Saturday afternoons.
The race is usually a third of the length of a standard F1 race and pit stops are not mandatory – it is as the name suggests, a sprint for the finish line and the finishing order will be used to determine the starting grid for Sunday’s full race. Points are also awarded to the top eight drivers from eight points down to one.
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In 2023, this format will be used in six races starting with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku in April.
Races in Austria, Belgium, Qatar, USA and Brazil will also have the Sprint qualifying.