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How Does F1 Qualifying Work?

F1 qualifying is a vitally important part of the race weekend as it decides which position the drivers will start for the race on Sunday. In the article below we will break down how F1 qualifying works and the main rules you need to know. 

When Does F1 Qualifying Take Place?

Qualifying typically takes place on the Saturday of the race weekend, after the third free practice session of the weekend. On some race weekends, when there is a sprint race, qualifying will take place on Friday, to determine the order for the sprint race.

F1 Qualifying Format

Q1

The first session, Q1, involves all cars and is 20 minutes long. The slowest 5 cars after 20 minutes are eliminated from qualifying and will start the race in the position they finished in Q1. 

The remaining cars all advance to Q2. At this point, their positions in Q1 are irrelevant as they are only used to advance to the next session.

Q2

The second session, Q2, is 15 minutes long. At the end of this session, the slowest 5 cars are eliminated and will start the race in the position they finished. 

The remaining cars, who finished in the top 10, all advance to the final shootout (Q3).

Q3

Q3 is the final session and involves the 10 cars that qualified from Q2. This final session is only 10 minutes long. 

This is a straight shootout to claim pole position (P1), and the order the cars finish in this session is the order they will start for the race. 

F1 Qualifying Rules 

As with most motorsports, there are a lot of rules to ensure the integrity of the competition, but here are the main rules you need to know: 

  • The cars are allowed to do as many laps as they want within the time period of the session.
  • Cars are allowed to finish their lap when the session time runs out, as long as they started the lap before the timer finishes.
  • Any driver eliminated in Q1 has to be within 107% of the fastest lap time from Q1. If the lap exceeds 107%, the driver isn’t allowed to race.

If a car advances into Q3, they must start the race on the tyre compounds they used in Q2.

F1 Sprint Races & Qualifying

Since the start of the 2021 season, sprint races have been taking place on certain races in the calendar. 

This changes the format of qualifying and the whole race weekend, with the format looking like this: 

Practice 1 (Friday)

Qualifying (Friday)

Practice 2 (Saturday)

Sprint Race (Saturday)

Race (Sunday)

The Friday qualifying established the order for the sprint race, which takes place on the Saturday. The order for the main race on the Sunday is taken from the order of the sprint race.

2023 Qualifying Rule Changes

For two races in the 2023 season, F1 will be testing removing the rule that states that cars in Q3 must start the race on the tyre compounds they used in Q2. 

The purpose of this rule change test is to reduce an advantage the top teams currently have, and to make the competition a more level playing field. 

F1 Qualifying Format History

Over the years, F1 qualifying formats and rules have changed drastically. The current format we see today has been in place since 2010. 

1950 – 1995

Qualifying was split over two sessions over the Friday and Saturday, and the drivers best times over each session was taken to make up the starting grid on the sunday. 

1996 – 2002 

During this time period, qualifying was decided by a one hour shootout. 

The premise was simple, drivers had 12 laps each during the one hour shootout session to complete their fastest lap time. 

This format was changed in 2002 as most teams & drivers left the 12 laps til later on in the session to ensure track condition was at optimum condition, which meant that not that much happened during a large part of the session. 

2003 – 2005

During 2003 – 2005, qualifying was decided from a single hot lap for each driver. The format was changed slightly over the three years, from Friday and Saturday one lap hotlaps, to only running on the Saturday. 

2006 Onwards 

The start of the 2006 season saw the introduction of the three staged qualifying that we see today. There have been some changes along the way, mainly around the rules around fuel. Initially, cars who made it to Q3 had to run on full fuel, which took away the exciting, low fuel give it all you have, hot laps.

A ban on refueling during the race in 2010 eliminated this issue, and brought back the low fuel shootouts across each session. 

F1 Sprint FAQs

What does the p mean in F1 qualifying? 

The ‘p’ stands for ‘position’, so P1 is position one (or pole position).

How come some cars only do one or two laps in Q3? 

If a team or driver thinks they have a shot at getting pole position, they may only do one or two laps in Q3. This is for a variety of reasons, but the main reason being is they don’t want to unnecessarily use their tyres and wear them out when they don’t need to do any extra laps.

Why is qualifying so important?

Qualifying is so important because it determines where you start on the starting grid for the race. For tracks that are difficult to overtake, like Monaco, then it’s even more important to qualify as high up as you can.

Michael Scott

Michael is the founder of Into Turn One and has loved all things motorsport from a young age. Michael started following F1 full-time when Lewis Hamilton broke onto the scene in 2007, and Lewis is still his favourite driver.