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What Is Pole Position In F1? How Important Is It?

Before the Grand Prix starts on a Sunday, the starting positions for the race need to be decided. This is done on Saturday during qualifying. The order of the starting grid is decided through timed laps, and the fastest driver in an F1 qualifying session is granted pole position.

Pole position in F1 goes to the driver who set the fastest lap during the final qualifying session. The driver on pole has the advantage of starting ahead of all the other drivers, which gives them the best opportunity to lead the race going into the first corner.

However, pole position does come with some challenges, and it’s not guaranteed that the driver who starts on pole will win the race. There’s a good chance another driver could be leading after emerging from the first corner. Below, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about pole position in F1.

How Is Pole Position Decided In F1?

Pole position in F1 is decided during qualifying. Qualifying usually takes place on the Saturday of a Grand Prix weekend, and it’s the last session before the Grand Prix. Each driver runs laps, and the starting order is based on the times they set. The driver with the fastest lap gets pole position.

Qualifying is based on timed laps, and it’s very important for drivers to get their qualifying session right or else they risk starting further down the grid. Pole position is the best place to start the race from, and it means the driver was the fastest on track by setting the quickest lap time in qualifying.

When a driver has pole position, it means that they will be starting at the front of the grid, in first place. A Formula 1 grid is set up in a staggered formation with cars lining up almost side by side. There is around one car length in distance between each position.

How Does F1 Qualifying Work?

Formula 1 has had different qualifying formats over the years. However, the current system that is in place has been going ever since 2006 and it works fairly well. There have been some minor tweaks over the years, but for the most part the format has not changed.

Qualifying starts with all 20 drivers heading out on track. They have 18 minutes to set their best possible lap time. The bottom five drivers will be knocked out and they will start in positions 16 to 20 based on their fastest laps.

The remaining 15 drivers will progress to Q2, which is a 15-minute session. All drivers must set another lap time, even if they have set a lap time in Q1. The slowest five cars in this session will be knocked out, and they will fill up positions 11 to 15, again depending on their lap times.

The third and final qualifying session, Q3, is a shootout for pole position. The ten drivers who have survived the first two rounds of qualifying will have 12 minutes to set their fastest lap time, and the grid slots for the top ten will be decided based on their fastest laps. The driver that sets the fastest overall lap time will get pole position.

Can A Driver Get The Fastest Time But Not Start On Pole?

The most common reason that a driver could have the fastest time but not have pole position is because the driver has received a penalty either during the race weekend or in a previous race. This is known as a grid penalty, and there are several reasons a driver might receive one, such as if they use too many engines and get an engine penalty.

If a driver qualifies in pole position but has a grid penalty to serve, they will not be given pole position. Their grid penalty will kick in, which takes them further down the grid. For example, if a driver qualifies with the fastest time but has a five-place grid penalty, they will instead start in sixth place for Sunday’s Grand Prix.

In some cases, the driver who qualifies in pole position may experience mechanical problems with their car. In the case of Charles Leclerc at his home race in Monaco in 2021, he was not able to start the race at all, even though he qualified in pole position. Sometimes a driver can start from the pit lane if their car is fixed on time.

What Happens If Two Drivers Set The Same Lap Time?

It might sound like an impossible situation, but with the margins in Formula 1 being so incredibly fine, it’s not rare to see two drivers setting the same exact lap time. Luckily there is a system in place to decide who would get pole position in this scenario.

It’s a very simple system. The driver who set the lap time first will be given pole position. This applies to the other positions on the grid too.This is the easiest way to keep track of the positions, and it’s also a way to determine who gets pole position for the Grand Prix without doing a random draw.

During qualifying for the 1997 European Grand Prix at Jerez, there was a situation where three drivers set identical lap times for pole position. Jacques Villeneuve was the first driver to set a time of 1:21.072 just 14 minutes into the session.

At the 28-minute mark, Michael Schumacher set the exact same lap time as Villeneuve. A crazy coincidence already. However, with just nine minutes to go in the session, Heinz-Harald Frentzen also crossed the line setting a lap time of 1:21.072. The drivers started the Grand Prix in the order they set the lap times, with Villeneuve starting on pole.

What About Pole Position In Sprint Races?

Sprint races change up the qualifying format dramatically. Drivers will do their standard qualifying session on a Friday afternoon rather than Saturday afternoon. This qualifying session will determine the starting positions for the Sprint race, which takes place on a Saturday afternoon.

F1 Sprint is a fairly new concept that was introduced in 2021. The Sprint races are controversial among drivers and fans, but they are set to remain in place, at least for the foreseeable future of Formula 1.

The Sprint race that takes place on Saturday afternoon is a shorter race, and the number of laps is determined by taking 25% of the full race distance. The drivers will do a standing start, and there are no mandatory pit stops, unlike in the Grand Prix. The starting grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday will be decided based on where each driver finishes in the Sprint race.

Who Gets Pole?

In 2021, a driver that qualified with the fastest time on Friday would not start at the front of the race on Sunday, as is still the case, but they also were not said to be on pole position in any way. Pole position went to the driver that won the sprint race, and would therefore start the race at the front.

From 2022 however, the fastest qualifier on Friday is now said to get pole position. This doesn’t mean they start Sunday’s race on pole, but it does mean they get attributed with the ‘pole position’ accolade.

What Is The Advantage Of Pole Position In F1?

Pole position in F1 has many advantages and is very important. It means the driver set the fastest lap time of all the drivers, which is a feat on its own. Aside from bragging rights, starting in pole position puts the driver in front of all the other cars and on the clean side of the grid.

The first advantage is that the driver on pole will be in front of everyone else on the grid. As they are starting first, they will have all 19 other drivers behind them. This allows them to have the best chance of leading the pack after the first corner, which is a great advantage.

Drivers who start in pole position will have a clear run down to the first corner, and they won’t have to avoid other cars around them braking early or avoiding each other. This means the driver in pole position can simply drive as fast as they can to get away from the rest of the pack, if they get a good start.

First Lap Advantage

The driver that starts in pole position will also have the first lap advantage. As long as they get a good start, they will have the advantage of having a clear track in front of them, which can allow them to pull a gap to the cars behind and get out to an early lead.

When drivers start further back, they have to slow down as the pack makes its way through the first corner. This naturally creates gaps between drivers, and the driver in last place could easily be up to 20 seconds behind the race leader just after the first corner.

Drivers will also struggle with downforce, as they must drive through the dirty air behind the other cars. This will make them even slower. However, the driver in pole position will have a clear track in front of them (if they held their position at turn one), which will give their car the best performance throughout the first lap and beyond.

How Important Is Pole Position In F1?

Pole position is very important in Formula 1 because of the advantages a driver gets from it. It also means that you have the fastest car, and you were the fastest driver in qualifying, which is always a great confidence boost for any driver heading into a Grand Prix.

However, pole position is more important at some circuits than others. For example, pole position at the Monaco Grand Prix is crucial, as it’s nearly impossible to overtake on the tight street track. At circuits such as Monza or Spa, it’s not as much of an advantage because these circuits provide many overtaking opportunities and the driver in pole position can easily be overtaken.

Does The Driver That Gets Pole Position Always Win?

The driver that qualifies in pole position does not always win. They might have the lead of the race and apparently the best chance at winning the Grand Prix, but it doesn’t always mean that they will win on Sunday. The percentage of winning from pole position in Formula 1 is just over 40 %.

However, this figure could be misleading. Some teams have had dominant eras, such as Ferrari in the early 2000s, Red Bull in the early 2010s, and Mercedes in the V6 hybrid era. These cars would usually qualify in pole position and win the race simply because other cars were not able to match their pace.

Formula 1 is an extremely unpredictable sport. Anything can happen, and we’ve seen the driver in pole position crash out before even reaching the first corner, as Sebastian Vettel did at the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix. We’ve even seen cars crash out while leading on the final lap as well, like Kimi Raikkonen during the 2005 European Grand Prix.

Drivers can also be overtaken throughout the race, or they can be passed while they are in the pits if another team has a better pit stop or race strategy. We have also seen many drivers have poor starts from pole position where they drop down the field before even reaching the first corner.

Is It Ever A Disadvantage To Start On Pole Position In F1?

It can be a disadvantage to start on pole position in some cases, such as if your car is not the quickest on the straights and it’s a long run down to the first corner. However, these disadvantages do not outweigh the positives, and it’s always worth gunning for pole position during qualifying.

Drivers usually won’t think about any of the negatives surrounding pole position and they will mostly be focused on the race ahead of them. However, we have seen these disadvantages of pole position impact the race leader early on in a Grand Prix.

Slipstream

The first disadvantage of starting in pole position is the fact the driver will be leading the race. This means that the drivers behind them will be able to tuck into their slipstream and gain a speed advantage down the straight toward the first corner.

The slipstream can be very powerful in Formula 1, thanks to the aerodynamics of the cars. We often see the drivers in second and third place trying to get in behind the leader to take advantage of the slipstream to overtake them going into the first corner.

Even if the driver starts from pole position and survives the first corner, there is still the risk of their competitors catching a slipstream down the next straight. Spa is known for having a powerful slipstreaming opportunity down the Kemmel straight, with a great overtaking opportunity at the end of it. Other tracks with short runs to the first corner won’t come with such a disadvantage.

Waiting On The Grid

Before the start of the race, the drivers will head out on a formation lap. This slow lap is used to get their cars warmed up. Formula 1 cars have very specific operating temperatures, and if the cars’ engines, brakes, and tires are too cold they will lose performance.

The formation lap allows all the drivers to warm up their cars. However, it’s a very slow lap, and the race can’t start until each driver is back in their grid slot and the five lights go out. Since the driver that starts in pole position is leading the pack, they will reach their grid slot first.

This leaves the leader waiting for the rest of the grid to line up in their own spots. During this time, the leader’s tires will cool down, and their engine and brakes will heat up (since Formula 1 cars need moving air to cool these parts down). If the wait is too long, the driver in pole position could be in trouble, with overheating brakes and cold tires making turn one a real challenge.

Pressure

Formula 1 drivers are no strangers to pressure. The entire sport is a high pressure and high intensity environment. However, when a driver qualifies in pole position, there is even more pressure put on the driver’s shoulders. The pressure to get a good start and go on to win the race is immense.

Some drivers thrive under pressure while others struggle. There’s a fine line between getting the perfect start, jumping the start, or completely losing out on the start when the five red lights go out to signify the start of the race.

The driver’s nerves could easily get the better of them. If the driver doesn’t stay focused, they could easily end up further down the grid by the time they reach the first corner, wiping away the pole position advantage. This is a common occurrence if a driver gets a slow start.

What Is The Dirty Side Of The Grid In F1?

The dirty side of the grid in F1 is the side of the track that is off the racing line. Drivers on the dirty side of the circuit will have less traction at the start of the race. The racing line is the ideal line around the circuit. This section will have the most rubber and therefore the most grip.

The dirty side of the circuit is where drivers don’t want to be. This is on the opposite side of the pole position grid slot and is made up of all the even numbered grid slots. It’s called the dirty side of the circuit as it’s off the racing line.

The dirty side of the racetrack will have no rubber laid down by the F1 cars in practice and qualifying, and any other series that has recently raced on the track. It will often be covered with dust and dirt which is naturally blown off the racing line by the cars as they race.

Drivers who start on this side of the circuits may experience a lot of wheelspin and a loss of traction. On some circuits, it’s better to start in third than to start in second because of this factor, as they get the slipstream from the driver on pole and they’re on the clean side of the grid.

What Is The Clean Side Of The Grid In F1?

The clean side of the grid in F1 offers the most traction, because it’s on the racing line and has been “rubbered in.” This happens when the cars have been driving on the racing line throughout the entire weekend, which naturally lays more rubber on the clean side of the circuit.

The clean side of the grid is where the pole position slot is. This side of the circuit is given to all the drivers who start in odd numbered positions. These drivers start on the clean side of the track as they start behind the driver in pole position. The driver who starts first has priority, which is why they are given the clean side of the grid.

Since there is more rubber, the tires will get better traction off the line, and the driver will be able to put the throttle down more aggressively and accelerate faster at the start of the race. Therefore, starting on the clean side of the grid is a huge advantage in Formula 1.

However, there is another factor to consider when it comes to the clean side of the grid. Since the clean side of the grid is naturally on the racing line, it means that it also leads to the ideal line into the first corner. The driver in pole position has the best angle of attack to hit the apex and get through turn one the fastest.

Final Thoughts

Pole position in Formula 1 means a driver starts in first place, with all the other cars behind them. It’s important because the driver in pole position also gets to start on the clean side of the grid, which will give them the best traction at the start of the race.