Before the lights even go out at the Marina Bay Circuit, the FIA representatives have been having a poor Grand Prix weekend. Despite a number of drivers impeding others during qualifying, not a single grid drop penalty has been handed out.
To add to his woeful day on track which saw the Dutch driver qualify just eleventh, Max Verstappen was investigated for three separate incidents of impeding and nigh on certain to receive a sporting penalty.
Verstappen lenient penalties
Yet the Red Bull driver incredibly escaped all indictments with just two reprimands. Given that Gary Connolly is on the stewards panel this weekend the leniency on Red Bull for some is even more surprising.
During the 2017 US Grand Prix, Connolly awarded Verstappen a controversial post race 5 second penalty which stripped him of his podium place relegating him to fourth position.
Despite other drivers complaining that Max had blocked the pit lane exit the stewards accepted his explanation he was creating a gap in the traffic. Further there is no precedent for penalising this kind of action although the stewards issued a reprimand.
Also in Q1, Verstappen was seen to jink to the side at the last second as a flying Logan Sargeant flew by completing his push lap. Yet the stewards accepted he was in amongst a whole host of others waiting to start their laps and Sargent didn’t feel he was impeded.
AlphaTauri fail to attend stewards enquiry
However, the slam dunk grid drop most F1 observers expected Max to suffer came in Q2. A flying Yuki Tsunoda arrived out of turn 4 to find Verstappen in the middle of the track which ruined the Japanese driver’s line into turn 5.
Mysteriously AlphaTauri did not attend the stewards enquiry and
Just a reprimand was issued, along with a fine of Ђ5,000 to Red Bull for admitted “poor communication” on the radio. This, the stewards felt, was “consistent with previous decisions in relation to the severity of the breach”.
Even this explanation has raised eyebrows given that most penalties handed down to drivers are due to a team failure whether it be because of too many unreliable engines or an unsafe release in the pit lane.
Race Director error
However, much of the chaos in qualifying was caused by the Race Director’s decision who in his notes had removed the requirement for a minimum lap time during qualifying for drivers not attempting flying laps.
The drivers persuaded race control that backing up and traffic would not be a problem here in Singapore and so the minimum lap time rule was not enforced.
Fernando Alonso believes the FIA need to consider drastic action to prevent this kind of behaviour repeatedly occurring at F1 street races in particular.
“It is difficult to handle, and whatever the FIA do, we will find a way to exploit it,” Alonso told assembled media.
Alonso calls for qualifying changes
“They have a very difficult job in terms of managing traffic on street circuits and I have said many times there is only one way to find a solution, which is single-lap qualifying.”
The premier open seater racing series in North America uses different qualifying formats for the different kind of circuits visited. At an Indycar weekend on the traditional ovals, the cars go out one by one in a pre decided order, complete two qualifying push laps and then the average speed is calculated.
This single lap qualifying is used on the ovals because the traffic would be too difficult to manage, were the usual F1 style knockout timed session be employed as Indycar does at its road course circuits.
Fernando clearly believes F1 would do well to follow Indycars lead and implement qualifying where the cars go out in turn to set a time and decide the qualifying order.
Hybrid engines create different problems
“All the other solutions that we can test will never work because we will find a way around it,” said the Spaniard.
“This qualifying format is obsolete and has been the same for 20-25 years and the cars are not as the same back then.
“Now we have hybrid engines we have to charge, we have to cool the tyres so the only way to go forward is [with] one lap [qualifying],” explained Alonso.
Of course with the F1 hybrid power unit the cars need maybe one or two laps to recharge the battery depending on the style of the circuit. This adds more congestion than in the V8 era when an out lap, push lap and in lap was the norm.
Will it ‘spoil the show?’
Formula One has used different forms of qualifying in its history, the most recent was introduced 17 years ago back in 2006.
However, any hope of the FIA agreeing with Fernando Alonso and changing the qualifying format will be dependent on the views of FOM who have done everything in their power to ‘improve the show.’
The jeopardy of traffic and an element of qualifying chaos adds to the drama of F1 qualifying and FOM would be unlikely to wish this to be changed.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 16, 2023