Formula 1’s goal of introducing reverse-grid qualifying races at a limited number of rounds in 2020 looks increasingly unlikely to happen as several teams have indicated they will not support it.
It’s not a popular idea among the drivers, either. Since the proposal was first mooted 12 months ago, all 20 of the current field have given their thought on it, and few had anything positive to say about this idea.
While not all of the current F1 drivers were entirely critical of the idea, most were. The few who spoke up in favour of it did so from a position of being open to new ideas, rather than sharing a conviction that it would be a change for the better.
Whether F1 does replace qualifying sessions at some races next year with reverse-grid sprint races is ultimately not down to the drivers. If it was, the idea would clearly never get off the ground.
The six-times world champion has consistently criticised the idea, saying last year the people behind it “don’t really know what they’re talking about.”
The fact that now they’re trying a reverse grid and all that it just seems to me like, it feels like an excuse for not doing a good enough job in the decision process.
His Mercedes team mate has similar views on the subject:
It’s a bit unfair at times because we know some tracks how difficult it can be to overtake and maybe that would make you play some games – within qualifying or a qualifying race. I just like fair racing and may the best man win. As we are now I’m pretty comfortable with that current format.
Probably the strongest critics of the proposal among the drivers, Vettel called the plan “complete bullshit” last year, and explained his views in full recently:
I think it’s completely wrong. Obviously it’s a testimony that if you are pushing in that direction, a testimony that you failed to come up with regulations and tools that bring the field more together and make racing better on the track.
I mean, as a reminder, we had new front wing regulations which cost everybody a fortune, but ultimately haven’t changed much in terms of racing. I think it would be wrong.
Obviously the hopes are on 2022 I guess for the regulation changes. I think we need to fix that and address the main points rather than trying to play the lottery.
I think it’s just against the element of sport and competition. As a competitor, I think as much as I don’t like other people to win, I have to accept if other people win or do a better job. Therefore I think it would be wrong in the name of sport to try and mix things up that way.
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Reverse-grid qualifying races might at least give Ferrari a chance to start near the front on a Saturday, but Leclerc is no keener than Vettel:
I don’t think it’s the solution for Formula 1. I think the best should win and start in the best place and not reversing that order.
Last year Max Verstappen said he and other drivers had told the sport’s bosses they didn’t want F1 to looking like “American wrestling” – a theme which others have echoed.
I don’t like it. It’s just artificial and trying to create a show which I think it’s not what Formula 1 stands for.
It’s just not my thing. The fastest car should be in the front. That’s what everyone works for. So why would you try and manipulate the show? And at the end of day, probably cars will end up in the same position anyway.
But it’s just not what Formula 1 is about. It needs to be about pure performance. That’s what you work for, you want to be the most dominant and competitive team out there, you want to start on the first row. So I don’t like it.
Those pushing for reverse-grid sprint races have seized on the recent Italian Grand Prix, claiming the lively Monza race presented a strong case for the proposal, Albon is not convinced:
I think what makes racing so special as well is races like Monza don’t happen often and it takes quite a lot of circumstances for things like that to happen. But that’s what makes them races so special.
It will not be special any more if a car that’s not supposed to be there is. It might take that part away from it. So I’m happy with how it is. I think we’ve got good racing. At the end of day, I’m also not too fussed about it.
Ricciardo expressed much the same view as Albon:
Personally my fear with going down this direction is, you see the last few races we’ve had some red flags and it’s mixed up the field at times and that’s been really exciting. But that’s also been organic. There’s been incidents in the race and that was the outcome of a situation.
I’m just worried if we add it an artificial way and mix up the field and then every driver’s then getting an F1 win, does the value of an F1 win hold what it does today? So I think that’s where it’s going to be, that fine line and that balance. That’s my kind of reservation with the first thought of it.
It’s tough because we want more exciting races but it’s still Formula 1 and everyone holding the big trophy, it should hold a certain level of value and maybe that would be diminished somewhat with a reverse grid.
Ocon has experience of reverse grid races from Formula 3, but isn’t sure it should be applied to F1:
Of course, to win a grand prix is something very, very special. And there’s been a lot of stuff that’s for sure happened in the last couple of races [that] have made the races exciting.
But I’ve been racing in other categories where they have this reversed grid. It mixes up the pack but I think still the most important [thing] is to close the cars together. Not obviously have difference so much between the performance of the cars. This is something that has been getting better throughout the years.
I remember starting in 2016, there was a much bigger spread in the grid. It’s now a lot closer in the midfield. Someone that has a really good weekend can be near the top five or right there. So I think still getting closer cars is the most important and I would definitely prefer that than having artificial stuff on the grids.
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Under the current championship standings Grosjean would start a reverse grid race from pole position. That doesn’t make him a fan of the idea.
I still don’t like it. Even though we’d start on pole, I don’t like it.
I think the midfield battle – sorry to say, but once you remove the Mercedes and Max Verstappen – the battle is going on absolutely flat-out and it’s mega. So I guess the solution for me is somewhere else. We just need to find a solution that the cars are more together in terms of performance.
Mercedes has been doing an incredible job for many years now and if everything stays the same for next year I still see them being world champions and probably Lewis being eight-times world champion, which will be very incredible. But I think to me it’s more that we need to bring the field together rather than trying reverse grid and things like that because, I don’t know, it just doesn’t fit quite what I’ve been growing up with and what I’d like to see in Formula 1.
Magnussen thinks the current qualifying format is “fantastic” and doesn’t want it to be replaced:
It’s not really the DNA of Formula 1. I think that it should be the best man, whoever performs the best gets the best result. Not putting the guy behind in front and that’s, I think it should be the best man wins.
Carlos Sainz Jnr
While Sainz is sceptical of the idea, and has eloquently argued F1 should wait to see the outcome of its coming overhaul of the technical rules before making further changes, he is one of few drivers who indicated he’d be happy to experiment with it:
I’m undecided. I am a bit curious to know what would happen in F1 with reverse grid races. I think I have that curiosity to potentially try it one day and see how it goes and see how it spices up things and what happens with Formula 1 in general once you introduce that format.
But at the same time, if you have the example of the Monza race where I was catching Pierre and the midfield was actually leading the race, it got a lot of excitement and it got a lot of followers by seeing how exciting was the Monza race. The race that I had against Pierre, against Lando [Norris], against Lance [Stroll], that is how every race – weekend in weekend out – we have [is].
We’re always battling in the midfield, we’re always overtaking each other, we always have small margins. It’s just that in Monza it got notices because we were fighting for a race win and everyone loved it.
So it makes me think at the same time that we don’t need to change anything and we just need to make all the teams come closer and have races like we had in Monza, which is the way that I’ve been racing for the last five years in Formula 1. The crazy midfield battles that there is overtaking going on until the last laps and strategies and so on.
So it makes me think that the current format with closer racing and closer car performance would be perfectly OK, potentially, in 2022, if we manage to get the field closer, and you will get a lot of Monza races. But with Lewis, with Valtteri, with Ferrari, hopefully, McLaren and company. But at the same time, I’m like, why not try once a reverse grid race and see what would happens.
Norris is also willing to wait until 2022 to decide if any other changes are needed:
I don’t think anything needs to change. And I don’t think creating reverse grid qualifying, or races or whatever, is the key to making a much better show. I think the rule change in 2022 with the different car regulations is going to be the biggest change and the biggest factor.
I don’t think it necessarily means if you swap everyone around, it’s going to create an amazing show for everyone and it’s going to be much better. And I don’t think it’s necessarily how Formula 1 should be. If you’re leading it’s because you’ve done the best job and that’s why you deserve to be. I don’t think you should get punished or put in a position necessarily because you’re doing a better job than other teams.
It could be something introduced as an extra, I’m not too sure. It’s a difficult one because I like how we have it now it’s very simple, it’s very outright. You have qualifying, you have the race and it’s a very defined place. If you win, it’s because you’ve done the best or you got a bit lucky or something. I’m not too sure, but I don’t think this is something to try and make up for the lack of racing sometimes or the lack of overtaking.
I don’t think it’s the answer to sorting out the problems we have in F1 at the moment. I think it’s just something to make people a bit more excited about something that could, but I don’t think from my side that it’s the answer.
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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff likened the reverse-grid qualifying race plan to something from World Wrestling Entertainment, a view which struck a chord with Perez:
I saw a comment from Toto Wolf on this one. He said that Formula 1 is not WWE. And I agree.
I think the problem Formula 1 has is the differences across teams that they’re working very hard to fix for 2022. Hopefully that happens.
I don’t think Formula 1 needs such an artificial thing to mix the race. I don’t think if you win a race on a reverse grid it’s going to be the same feeling as getting a grand prix victory. So I don’t think that’s a good idea for the sport.
Stroll has predicted a sprint race would be “really boring” given F1’s current rules, and doesn’t like the reverse grid element either:
I’m not a fan of it. I think it’s artificial. I think Saturday is just as exciting for the fans and for us drivers as Sunday. I think the root problem is the difference in pace between the teams and that’s what’s causing these predictable victories by the same few drivers every weekend. So I think the aim is really to fix that and hopefully that’s what’s going to happen in ’22 because reverse grid races, I don’t see that as being a real fix to the problem.
Always economical with his words, Raikkonen’s view is short and to the point:
It depends obviously how they would do it but probably the qualifying can be more exciting than a short race.
Giovinazzi is among the small group of drivers who indicated they’d be happy to see the plan introduced – with some reservations:
I did enjoy reverse grids when I was racing in GP2: they always produced a lot of action and rewarded drivers who knew how to overtake and deal with traffic. That format, however, was best suited to two races per weekend and I am not sure that would be the best solution for Formula One. You would miss out on a lot of the atmosphere and uniqueness of a grand prix.
I think the sport is right in trying to find ways to make the races more spectacular and I’d be happy to see some ideas trialled in the future, but this can’t come at the expense of other things that make fans tune in to watch a race.
Both AlphaTauri drivers were clear in their criticism of the plan. Kvyat believes it wouldn’t change a great deal:
Of course reverse grid could create potentially a bit more spectacle in the short term, but it’s more of a Band-Aid on a more global problem. That at the moment, there is a couple of teams dominating. And even if I think they start from eighth or 10th like if we adopt Formula 2 system, they will be first and second within 10 laps again. So it will not really change a lot in that regard. It might create more confusion, who knows.
But it would be a lot more exciting if we just bring performance of all teams even within one second region, that would be perfect. Like we see often in Moto GP it’s very unpredictable who might win, who might not win and so on.
Gasly was slightly warmer on the idea, but like Kvyat sees a better solution to the problem F1 is trying to tackle:
I must say I’m not a big fan of this reverse grid. I think the main thing is trying to get the cars in a much closer performance window all together. I think if we had cars all within five or six tenths and I think already you could see a lot better racing.
Because the racing in the midfield is quite exciting. You see the battle between the Renault and the Racing Point, McLaren, Haas, Alfa. And it’s quite exciting, the only problem is that we can’t keep up with the Red Bulls, we don’t keep up with the Mercedes and they are the podium contenders.
It’s difficult to say if it will be good. Maybe it’s worth trying but I think the priority is really trying to make sure that all teams are within a certain window of performance.
Having previously dismissed the idea on the grounds it would make the Williams drivers look “stupid”, Russell has softened his position slightly, but his suspicion it may prove “a bit of a joke” doesn’t exactly scream confidence in the idea:
I’m 50-50. I still think the Mercedes would win. I think would be really interesting in the midfield, because the pace between all of those cars is so close, separated by a tenth or two, you’d suddenly find the guys on the back end of that pace, find themselves really in the points because the cars behind aren’t quick enough to overtake, even though they are quick.
So I think I’m happy to try things. We’ve got to try things. You live, you learn, you try things. It could be exciting and it might be a bit of a joke, but maybe we can try it once.
As with many of his peers, Latifi fears reverse grid qualifying races would detract both from the sport’s heritage and from the occasional races which naturally produce unpredictable results:
It kind of takes away from the DNA of how Formula 1 always is, and just racing in general, that you always have the fastest guys starting at the front.
The only way I would be for it is if it wasn’t obviously the main race. Like in the junior championships, Formula 2 and Formula 3, you have your ‘feature’ race and then you have a more ‘sprint’ race which, if you are one of the guys who’s in the reverse grid, it’s kind of more of like a fun race for you to try and enjoy unless you’re still trying to score points.
Obviously when the races is shook up like it was in Monza it does create a lot of excitement and I guess opportunity to a lot of other people and it’s great for the fans. But at the same time if races like that are happening every race then are those kind of results going to be diluted that it’s that kind of mixed up order happening all the time?
It was great, not just [Monza], but when you’ve had races like Brazil last year as well where you have quite a different-looking podium, when they happen every once in a while, it just draws so much attention which is amazing for the sport and amazing for the guys that are in that opportunity. If it’s to happen every race it might not have the same appeal.
2020 F1 season