How F1 Qualifying Works – The Ultimate Guide

How F1 qualifying works can be somewhat confusing, especially now there are both knockout and Sprint qualifying formats. However, there are a few important things to know that will make it easier to understand the F1 qualifying process.

F1 qualifying works using 3 separate sessions within an hour, labeled Q1, Q2 and Q3. Formula 1 qualifying sets the starting order for Sunday’s race, with Q1 deciding positions 16-20, Q2 deciding positions 11-15, and Q3 deciding who gets pole position and positions 2-10.

Qualifying ranks drivers according to the fastest lap time they can achieve in the various qualifying sessions. But in previous decades of F1 history, it was even used to decide which drivers were actually allowed to race at all. I go through how F1 qualifying works in more detail below.

Note: This is going to be a long one! Use the table of contents below to jump ahead to the parts you want to know more about. I’ll go through Sprint qualifying towards the end, but if you want to know more about that specifically, check out our full guide to the F1 Sprint format.

Diagram explaining Formula 1's qualifying format, showing the differences between Q1, Q2 and Q3.
A basic explanation of F1 qualifying

How Does Qualifying For F1 Work?

Qualifying for an F1 race happens over a 1-hour session, usually on a Saturday afternoon. The hour is split into three periods, where the slowest five drivers are eliminated in the first period (Q1), then the next slowest five are eliminated in the second period (Q2), and finally the remaining 10 drivers all try to set the fastest lap (to get pole position) in the final period (Q3).

The drivers are ranked according to the lap times that they manage to set during these qualifying periods, and this is what determines the starting order (referred to as the ‘grid’) for Sunday’s race.

But before we get into all the details of the rules around how this is decided, let’s get familiar with the terms used in the paddock. This will make it much easier to discuss Formula One qualifying, and the rest of the race weekend as a whole. (Don’t worry, I’ll go through Q1 etc in more detail shortly.)

F1 Qualifying Terms & Abbreviations

  • FP1 – First free practice session (1 hour on a Friday)
  • FP2 – Second free practice session (1 hour on Friday*, usually 2 hours after FP1)
  • FP3 – Third free practice session (1 hour on a Saturday*, usually 2 hours before qualifying starts)
  • Q1 – First period of the qualifying session, usually on a Saturday* (18 minutes)
  • Q2 – Second period of the qualifying session (15 minutes)
  • Q3 – Third period of the qualifying session (12 minutes)
  • Sprint Shootout – Knockout qualifying session to set the grid for the Sprint race (shorter than normal qualifying)
  • Sprint – Special qualifying session consisting of a 30-minute race on a Saturday
  • Grid – The order that the cars are arranged in for the start of the race
  • Pole position – The driver that starts Sunday’s race at the front of the grid

Note: While it’s often referred to as the “Sprint race,” the race that people are usually talking about in F1 is the one that takes place on the Sunday

A Typical F1 Weekend Schedule

ThursdayPress conferences
FridayFP1 + FP2
SaturdayFP3 + Knockout qualifying

F1 Sprint Weekend Schedule

ThursdayPress conferences
FridayFP1 + Knockout qualifying for Sunday’s race
SaturdaySprint Shootout + Sprint race
SundayMain race

Formula 1 travels to more than 20 different locations around the world in the space of only 9 months and does this consistently, year in and year out. The traveling circus of F1 therefore has a fairly standard race weekend format that is predictably applied at each location. Times of the individual sessions may vary, but within defined limits.

However, things change on a Sprint weekend, as you can see in the table above, where there is no FP2 and there’s a Sprint Shootout format. I’ll go into more detail on the specifics of that later on.

Note: If you want to know more about the practice sessions specifically, check out our full guide to FP1, FP2, and FP3.

Monaco & Las Vegas As Exceptions

Monaco is another example of a different weekend schedule. Traditionally, the Monaco GP started with track action a day earlier on the Thursday, with a rest day on Friday. This dates back as early as the first Monaco GP held in 1929 on the same weekend as the Feast of the Ascension, when the Friday was the Ascension Day holiday.

Although the race at Monaco is still held on roughly the same dates each year, it no longer has the public holiday on the Friday. The Friday rest day remained the tradition until 2022. The 2022 Monaco race weekend followed the same format as all other races, with the first two practice sessions taking place on Friday (there is no Sprint race at Monaco).

A final exception is the Las Vegas race, which takes place late on Saturday night in the USA. However, due to time differences, this means it’s still on a Sunday in much of the world!


• The F1 race weekend begins with practice on a Friday and ends with the race on Sunday

• Most race weekends follow the same format

• There are some exceptions, and the Sprint races also alter the weekend format

Formula 1’s Q1, Q2 & Q3 Explained

So, we’re on to the nitty-gritty now – the details of how Q1, Q2 and Q3 work. As I mentioned earlier, they are three periods within a single 60-minute qualifying session. Q1 starts as an 18-minute period, followed by a 7-minute rest before the second period of Q2 for 15 minutes. After a further 8-minute break, the Q3 shootout takes place for the final 12 minutes of the session.

This session usually takes place on a Saturday after FP3, and it sets the grid for Sunday’s race. On weekends with a Sprint race, this knockout qualifying session takes place on the Friday after FP1, but it still sets the grid for Sunday’s race. The Sprint grid is set by the Sprint Shootout (more on that later). However, the Sprint Shootout does follow a similar format to that outlined below, but the sessions are shorter (and they’re called SQ1, SQ2 and SQ3 instead).

Q1 (Positions 16-20)

In Q1, all 20 cars are required to set a lap time. After the 18 minutes are up, the 5 slowest cars are eliminated, and the remaining 15 cars progress to Q2. The eliminated cars are assigned their grid slots for Sunday according to their ranking on the timesheet for Q1.

Drivers often have multiple attempts within a qualifying session, as they don’t always nail their timed lap on the first try, and the track will evolve over time. Track temperatures might fluctuate, and as the cars go round the track they lay some rubber down on the racing line (as it wears off their tires and sticks to the track), which gives it more grip and allows for progressively faster lap times.

The real goal in Q1 is to avoid the elimination zone to be able to move on to Q2. Drivers will often put in a lap that they are happy with, then wait to see if it is fast enough to keep them out of the elimination zone (the slowest 5 cars).

There is always a flurry of new lap times being set as Q1 comes to a close, so there can often be an upset if a driver has misjudged the need for another qualifying attempt, or doesn’t manage to get their last run in due to yellow flags or a safety car, or even mechanical issues, and they get bumped down the order as other drivers improve their times.

Key Fact: Q1 only determines grid positions 16-20, as the top 15 drivers progress to Q2 and their Q1 lap times are effectively written off

Q2 (Positions 11-15)

The remaining 15 drivers start with a blank slate for Q2. They are all required to once again set a lap time within the time limit, which is 15 minutes for Q2. Again, the slowest 5 cars are eliminated, and those drivers are assigned their grid places based on their ranking in Q2 (positions 11-15). Again, the aim is to avoid being in the bottom five in order to make it through to Q3.

Q3 (Positions 1-10)

Only the top 10 drivers remain to battle it out in Q3. In recent years, these slots have normally (but not always) been taken by the six cars of the top three teams (Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes), with the remaining four being hotly contested by the midfield teams behind them. It is quite an achievement for a driver from a midfield team – or indeed backmarker team – to make it into Q3 (we’re looking at you, Alex Albon!).

With only 12 minutes in Q3, each driver usually only has the opportunity to get two hot laps in. Generally, they try to put in an opening ‘banker’ lap – one that’s not quite as fast as they can go, but instead is a good lap with no mistakes in order to make sure that there is at least a somewhat reasonable time on the board. The second lap then needs to be a proper flying lap where they give it absolutely everything.

Key Fact: Drivers will usually set banker laps in all three sessions, as it allows them to have a time on the board in case there is an incident or rain that disrupts the session or ruins one of their later laps.

Most drivers aim to improve on their second lap, and so the dying minutes of Q3 often sees a flurry of faster lap times and the final qualifying order changing rapidly. It can be really thrilling to watch! It also keeps the suspense until the last moment because pole position is only decided once every car has crossed the line after the time runs out.

What Is Pole Position?

Pole position in F1 is the position at the very front of the grid for the race. The advantage is that pole position is at the head of the field of competitors, giving the best opportunity to be in the lead of the race at the first corner. The driver with the fastest time in Q3 starts on pole position.

There are particular tracks where pole position is more valuable. The most well known of these is Monaco, although it tends to be true for most street tracks. Street tracks are narrower and more difficult to overtake on. Therefore, whoever starts the race in pole position (if they can keep the lead through the first few corners) has a good chance of winning the race.

Key Fact: Since 1950, only 10 races at Monaco have been won by a driver that started outside the top 3!

Regardless of how quick a driver has looked through the free practice sessions, and even Q1 and Q2, all of that counts for nothing. If they don’t manage to put together a fantastic lap in Q3, they won’t get the starting grid position for Sunday’s race that their form promised all weekend.

It’s worth noting that, while the fastest laps of the session usually come in Q3, this is not always the case. If the track temperature changes drastically between Q1 and Q3, or if it’s dry in Q1 but it rains in a later session, it’s not uncommon to see Q1 laps that were faster than Q3 laps. However, pole position is always set in Q3 provided it goes ahead, regardless of the lap times in Q1 and Q2.

How Many Qualifying Rounds Are There In F1?

There are usually only 3 qualifying rounds in F1 (Q1, Q2, and Q3 as discussed above). However, on a Sprint weekend, there is an extra round of qualifying just for the Sprint race, and there’s also the Sprint race itself (no longer a qualifying session). The Sprint used to set the grid for Sunday’s race, but that changed in 2023.

I’ll talk more about the Sprint weekend format later, but let’s first go over some important details about F1 qualifying times.

How Long Is F1 Qualifying?

F1 qualifying is usually about 1 hour long, made up of Q1 (18 mins), Q2 (15 mins) and Q3 (12 mins), with breaks in between each session. However, it can go on longer if there is a delay, or if someone brings out the red flags due to a crash.

The Sprint Shootout qualifying doesn’t take as long, as each session is shorter. The first part of the Shootout is 12 minutes long, the second part lasts 10 minutes, and the final part of the Shootout is just 8 minutes long. This entire sessions typically lasts around 45 minutes, provided there are no delays or stoppages.

How Many Laps Are There In F1 Qualifying?

How many laps a driver completes in F1 qualifying largely depends on which session they get through to, as a driver that gets to Q3 will naturally complete more laps than a driver knocked out in Q1. A driver will set few timed laps, but they will perform many out laps and in laps in qualifying too.

Qualifying laps are therefore actually a set of almost three laps – the out lap, the timed lap and the in lap. Since the pits are parallel to the start-finish straight, when a driver leaves the pits, they need to complete almost a full lap (the out lap) before they cross the start-finish line to trigger the start of their timed lap.

The out lap gives the driver an opportunity to warm up their tires (and brakes) to get them to their ideal working temperature for maximum performance. The driver also focuses on getting a great exit out of the final corner so that they can cross the line with the most speed and momentum to start their timed lap.

On the timed lap, every corner needs to be as close to perfect as possible. The driver will push the car to its limits, hitting the apex of every corner, getting on the brakes as late as they can and applying the throttle as early out of the corner as possible. The driver then has a final dash to the start-finish line, where their time is set.

They then need to drive yet another almost complete lap (the in lap) to get back to the pit entry. Therefore, each driver actually takes almost three laps (normally around 4 to 6 minutes of track time) to set a single qualifying lap time and get back to the pits. They’ll sometimes do an extra warm up lap, but they’re normally not loaded with fuel to keep the car light, limiting how far they can go between stops in the garage.

A checkered flag is waved at the end of each session, and drivers that have crossed the start/finish line before this flag has been waved can do another timed lap, even though the session timer has stopped. Drivers that don’t make it to the line in time need to make do with their fastest time set before that.

What Time Is F1 Qualifying?

F1’s knockout qualifying normally takes place at 2pm or 3pm UK time (GMT or BST). This means it’s on at a similar point in the day in most of Europe, with some races an hour or two earlier or later than this. That means most F1 races take place very early in the morning for those in the USA, except of course those that take place at US tracks and elsewhere in the Americas.

For these races, qualifying is normally on at around 9pm UK time. The races that take place in the Far East, like Singapore and Japan, are typically on in the early hours of the morning for those back in Europe and the UK.

On a Sprint weekend, knockout qualifying normally occurs at about the same time, but on a Friday instead of on a Saturday. The Sprint Shootout is generally on in the morning in the UK, and therefore very early in the morning for those in the USA.

Now let’s talk a bit more about some of the key rules in F1 qualifying.

F1 Qualifying Rules

There are lots of rules that drivers need to bear in mind during F1 qualifying. Below, I’ll go through some of the most important ones.

Grid Penalties

One of the most important F1 qualifying rules concerns grid penalties. Most often these are penalties for taking extra components of their power unit (not meeting the reliability requirements) or having to work on the car during the restricted time (Parc Fermé) between qualifying and the race (such as replacing a gearbox that might have been damaged).

Grid place penalties can also be applied for driving infringements during the qualifying session. For instance, if one driver was in the way of another driver on a flying lap, the first driver can be penalized for impeding. Also, if there are other infringements such as not respecting pit lane rules or causing a collision, these can also drop a driver further down the order for Sunday.

As always, things get more complex on a Sprint weekend. Here is a summary of how grid penalties work on F1 Sprint weekends:

  • Grid penalties picked up by drivers before the Sprint Shootout apply to Sunday’s race
  • Grid penalties drivers pick up during the Sprint Shootout apply to the Sprint race
  • Grid penalties picked up during the Sprint apply to Sunday’s race
  • Parc Fermé breaches result in pit lane starts for both the Sprint and Sunday’s race

Can F1 Drivers Use DRS During Qualifying?

F1 drivers can use DRS during qualifying, and they can do so at any time when they’re within the DRS zones. Unlike during a race, they don’t need to be within 1 second of the car in front.

The 107% Rule & F1 Qualifying

In order to keep the entries into a Grand Prix as competitive as possible, there is a rule that all drivers who plan to enter the race must have set a time within 107% of the pole sitter’s lap. This ensures that, if there are cars that are uncompetitive, they will not be entered into the race, as excessively slow cars cause a hazard and risk impacting the race.

However, the F1 sporting regulations do provide some exemptions. If the qualifying session is classified as ‘wet’ by the race director, the rule does not apply. This is because, in wet conditions, otherwise competitive cars may not have the opportunity to set representative lap times in the hour-long session.

Also, in exceptional circumstances (such as an incident disrupting the qualifying session), the stewards can choose to still allow a car to enter the race provided that they had posted a time during one of the Free Practice sessions within 107% of the pole position time (as was the case with Logan Sargeant at the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix).

You can find out more about why this rule exists in our article all about F1’s 107% rule.

What Happens When It Rains During Qualifying?

If it rains in the middle of a session, those that set banker laps are usually very glad they did so! This is because a wet track offers far less grip than a dry track (sometimes no grip at all). This means the lap times are much higher, and so if you set a seemingly poor lap time in the dry, it’ll usually not be beaten by someone in the wet!

This can make for a rather anticlimactic ending to qualifying, as pole position can be decided much earlier in the final session. We saw this happen in 2022 at the Brazilian Grand Prix, when Kevin Magnussen set a decent banker lap in the dry just before it started raining, and it was the session’s fastest at that time. This meant nobody could set a faster time on the wet track, earning him his first pole position.

Note: If it rains heavily enough, a Q3 session may be stopped, which means whoever had the fastest lap before it was stopped gets pole position.

What Happens If F1 Qualifying Is Cancelled?

If F1 qualifying is cancelled, due to intense rain or for any other reason, the standard approach is to simply postpone qualifying until Sunday morning, a few hours before the race. If this is still not possible, the grid may be set using free practice times.

This happened most recently at the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, when all sessions scheduled for Saturday were cancelled, including FP3 and qualifying, due to heavy rain. Qualifying was therefore held on Sunday morning, about four hours before the scheduled start of the race.

Should the weather not allow qualifying to even take place on Sunday morning, and qualifying therefore be completely cancelled, there is no direct provision in the F1 sporting regulations.

Should it ever happen that qualifying is completely cancelled and cannot be held before the race (as unlikely a scenario as that may be), then it is expected that the stewards would arrange the grid based on free practice times.

The next section discusses a very important set of qualifying rules, concerning one of the most critical parts of an F1 car – the tires.

Tire Rules In Formula 1 Qualifying

In modern F1, using the tires effectively is a key success factor. The Pirelli tires are designed to have accelerated degradation, in order to force the drivers to make at least one pit stop during a race. This high rate of degradation can mean that the performance and grip of a tire can drop off quite rapidly as more laps are completed.

This also impacts the way that tires are used during qualifying. Generally, the tires have the most grip when they are brand new, so the ideal qualifying lap would be set on new tires. Also, there are different tire compounds to choose from – from 2019 these compound choices have been simplified to Hard, Medium and Soft.

Key Fact: Pirelli chooses 3 of the 6 possible dry tire compounds to be used at each race weekend. The range goes from C0-C5, with C0 being the hardest and C5 being the softest.

The harder compound lasts for more laps, but the softer compound has more grip, just for fewer laps. So, the ideal qualifying lap would be set on soft tires, where the highest grip levels allow pushing to the limit for just one lap.

However, in order to introduce some strategy, each team has a limited number of each tire compound available to them for the whole weekend. This means that they need to carefully choose when to use each new set of tires. They also need to ensure that they have the optimum combination of tires available for race day.

F1 Tire Allocations

CompoundSets Available
Total13 dry + 7 wet

This limits the tires that they can use during qualifying. As a result, only a handful of a driver’s laps during qualifying can be set on new tires. A driver must then decide which qualifying run they want to save the new set of soft tires for, and which parts of qualifying they think they can get through on a used set.

For example, some drivers might feel confident enough that they can clear Q2 on a set of used soft tires that they ran in Q1. Others may feel they could even get out of Q1 with a set of medium tires, saving a set of brand new softs for race day (but this is not very common).

Old F1 Q2 Tire Rule

To add to this strategic decision, the rules used to require the top 10 drivers to start the race on the same tires that they set their fastest Q2 time on. All other drivers beyond the top 10 had freedom of choice of which tire to start on. This was done to prevent all the top 10 cars qualifying on new soft tires, and to allow them to try to qualify on the medium tires.

It’s often the case that the medium tire is a better tire to start the race on than the soft as it still provides decent grip but also allows for a longer first stint before a pit stop. This meant the fastest cars would often try to get out of Q2 on the medium instead of the soft, forcing them to risk not being fast enough to get into Q3 (as other cars would be on the faster soft tire, even if their cars were slower).

However, this extra dimension of tire management has been done away with since 2022. The top 10 drivers are now free to choose which tires to start the race on, regardless of what they were using during qualifying. The restriction on the number of sets of each compound available to each driver for the whole weekend already forces drivers to try to be clever about which tires they use and when.

F1 Tire Rules For Sprint Shootout

Before I go into more detail about the Sprint weekend in general, it’s worth mentioning that the Shootout has its own set of tire restrictions. Drivers must use new sets of medium tires during SQ1 and SQ2, and then they can use a set of new or used soft tires in SQ3.

What Is F1 Sprint Qualifying?

Sprint qualifying in F1 is a 100 km race (around 30 minutes long) held on Saturday that decides the starting order for Sunday’s main race. It was introduced in 2021 and is designed to add to the spectacle and interest across a full race weekend. The Sprint race’s grid is set by the Sprint Shootout on Saturday morning.

The F1 Sprint is specifically limited to “the least number of complete laps which exceed a distance of 100 km.” It is designed to be a fast paced, flat-out race to the checkered flag with no pit stops. Should anything happen during the Sprint that extends the running, such as a suspension of the session or a safety car, there are other limitations to be sure that it does not go on too late.

Points are also awarded for the Sprint. Since 2022, the winner gets 8 points, 7 points go to second place, and so on all the way down to a single point for the 8th place finisher. This is significantly more points on offer compared to 2021, where only the top three received points. The winner would receive 3 points down to 3rd place getting 1 point.

Diagram explaining the format of Formula 1's Sprint race format, showing the format, rules, and points on offer.

Which F1 Races Are Sprint Events?

In 2021, the season in which the format was introduced, Sprint races were held as the qualifying events at the:

  • British Grand Prix at Silverstone
  • Italian Grand Prix at Monza
  • Sao Paulo Grand Prix at Interlagos

In 2022, Sprint races were held at the following Grands Prix:

  • Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola
  • Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring
  • Sao Paulo Grand Prix at Interlagos

In 2023, the Sprint race weekends take place at the:

  • Azerbaijan Grand Prix
  • Austrian Grand Prix
  • Belgian Grand Prix
  • Qatar Grand Prix
  • United States Grand Prix (COTA)
  • Brazilian Grand Prix

Only some tracks are suitable for Sprint races. For example, at Monaco, where overtaking is particularly challenging, a Sprint race would add very little interest, and would likely detract from the weekend instead. So, it is not planned that Sprint races will ‘replace’ qualifying, but only that they will be occasional additions with the goal of enhancing the overall spectacle.

F1 Sprint races have been a divisive issue in the sport, with some fans, drivers and teams enjoying them, while others don’t believe they add to the sport and/or actually take away from it instead. Personally, I can’t say I dislike watching more racing! However, they don’t always yield much entertainment as drivers often drive conservatively to protect their starting position for Sunday’s race.

“Every time I do these [sprint] races, it’s about ‘don’t get damage, make sure you stay in the top three.'”

Max Verstappen on the cautious approaches drivers take in Sprint races

How F1 Sprint Works

F1 Sprints shuffle the schedule of each of the sessions on Friday and Saturday. On weekends that an F1 Sprint race is scheduled, only one free practice session takes place instead of the traditional three. FP1 is then scheduled for the early afternoon on Friday.

The three traditional qualifying sessions (Q1, Q2 and Q3) then take place on Friday afternoon. This is quite different to normal race weekends, as the teams and drivers have had just one practice session to work on the setup of the cars before heading into the traditional qualifying format. Usually, they will have had three sessions and a lot more confidence in their setup.

The results of this qualifying session decides the starting order for the race on Sunday. I’ve explained this above in more detail, but it’s worth saying here that it wasn’t always this way. In 2021 and 2022, this session set the grid for the Sprint race on Saturday, and the results of the Sprint race set the grid for Sunday’s race.

In other words, prior to 2023, the Sprint race was effectively a qualifying session.

F1 Sprint Shootout Qualifying Explained

I’ve alluded to it a few times already, but the Sprint Shootout qualifying session that sets the grid for the Sprint race itself follows a very similar format to normal knockout qualifying. The format is as follows:

  • SQ1 – 12 minutes, sets positions 16-20 for the Sprint
  • SQ2 – 10 minutes, sets positions 11-15 for the Sprint
  • SQ3 – 8 minutes, sets positions 1-10 for the Sprint

Drivers must use new medium tires for SQ1 and SQ2, but they need to use softs in SQ3 (they can be used or new). Most of the other standard qualifying rules apply during the Sprint Shootout.


• The Sprint format was introduced in 2021 and used at 3 events

• It features at 6 events in 2023

• It’s a 100 km dash with no (mandatory) pit stops, with its grid set by the Sprint Shootout

How Did F1 Qualifying Used To Work?

There have been many iterations of F1 qualifying, particularly in the period from 1996 to 2010. Before 1996, the qualifying arrangement was very simple – there were two separate sessions of an hour each. The first session was on the Friday, and the second session took place on the Saturday. The fastest time of each driver from either session decided their grid position for the race.

There were occasional variations here and there during this period, but largely the concept remained the same. However, it was not very entertaining to watch and gave a very predictable result. It was particularly disappointing if the weather on the Saturday meant that faster times than Friday were unlikely, meaning that pole had actually been decided the day before.

Single One Hour Session

In 1996, this format was changed to only a single hour on a Saturday. The single session was then guaranteed to produce the grid order. Drivers were limited to 12 timed laps. It still produced predictable results, as any driver who made a mistake on one lap could simply go out and try again. There were no restrictions on fuel loads or tires, so teams just set the car up for the fastest one lap pace.

Unfortunately, the best times were usually set at the end of the session, when the most rubber had been laid on the track and the racing line had been cleaned up. Therefore, most of the hour saw the teams waiting in the garage for other cars to put the rubber down and improve track conditions, with a flurry of laps late in the session. Once again, this was not great for the fans at home.

One Lap Qualifying

So, in 2002, one lap qualifying was introduced. Each driver had a scheduled window to put in a single qualifying lap. This guaranteed running on track throughout the hour. One session on Friday had the drivers starting in championship order, which was then reversed for a second session on Saturday, where the slowest went first. Pole position was given to the fastest driver in the Saturday session.

The reverse order on Saturdays gave the fastest cars the cleanest track. However, with the forced order of running, if there were any changing weather conditions, drivers were unfairly disadvantaged based on their scheduled running time. In 2004, both sessions were held close together on the Saturday, but it still allowed fluctuation according to evolving track conditions.

Current Knockout Format

There was another tweak in 2005 in an attempt to get a system that worked. This was to aggregate the two lap times set during the two sessions. But finally, in 2006, the first iteration of the current knockout format of three periods was introduced. However, in Q3, the laps had to be set on race fuel loads.

This was in the days of refueling, when race strategy was dictated by how much fuel each car carried. Full fuel loads in Q3 meant that the drivers were still not able to give their all. In 2010, refueling was banned, and tires instead governed the race strategy. Q3 then allowed drivers to complete their flying laps with low fuel, giving their all to squeeze out the absolute fastest lap.

There have still been some minor adjustments to the format since then, such as a brief two races in 2016 where additional timed knockouts were introduced (and promptly dropped). However, the knockout format introduced great on-track action across the full hour of Saturday qualifying, with an occasional dose of unpredictability to spice up Sunday’s race!

Of course, the Sprint race format then came in 2021, and we’ve already seen major changes made to it in both 2022 and 2023. It’s likely the Sprint format will continue to evolve further, but knockout qualifying seems here to stay.

Final Thoughts

F1 qualifying usually involves three knockout sessions labelled Q1, Q2 and Q3. Usually held on a Saturday, these sessions decide the starting order for the race. Things change on a Sprint weekend, where there is an additional Sprint Shootout knockout qualifying session that sets the grid for the Sprint race.

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