Formula E’s qualifying format has been a controversial topic since the series began in 2014, but that is set to change this year.
A new football, or rugby, World Cup-esque format has been introduced, replacing the reverse championship group qualifying system which was used since Season 1.
It’s a change which has been coming for a long time as animosity towards the old group qualifying format continued to grow and began to damage the championship’s reputation.
Why was the old qualifying format hated?
The old qualifying system saw the grid split into four groups, but crucially the top six in the Drivers’ Championship went first.
This meant they faced the worst track conditions due to the huge track evolution at most tracks. No matter how good their lap was, the drivers in group one rarely made it to the ‘Super Pole’ shootout which was seen as unfair.
In 2019, double Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne slammed the format.
“I don’t understand,” Vergne said. We spend so much time and money trying to be the best but get penalised by being in the first group, especially on a track like this where the track evolution has been massive.
“Qualifying has always been a problem in Formula E. When I was in F1, no-one ever complained about the qualifying so I don’t think they can keep it this way for long.
“There are big manufacturers spending so much money and then having their weekend ruined by being in group one.
“I can understand that people like the lottery but when you spend so much money, our sport should not be a lottery.”
Other drivers also voiced their concerns over the years and fans have followed suit in recent seasons. However, the new qualifying system should eradicate any criticism.
How does Formula E’s new qualifying format work?
A group element will remain with the new format, but it won’t be anywhere near as important as it used to be.
The field of 22 will initially be split into two groups with the odd-numbered drivers in the championship in Group A and the even-numbered drivers in Group B.
At a power of 220kW (the power that’s used in the race), the drivers will get 10 minutes to set the best lap they can. One rule is you must set at least one lap during the first five minutes of the session.
The top four from each of the groups will then advance to a knockout tournament to take part in mini ‘duels’.
From here on in, it will all come down to one lap at 250kW to avoid elimination and reach the latter stages of qualifying. In each quarter-final, one driver will set off first before the second driver sets off seconds later. Whoever is fastest will make the semi-finals. This process is repeated again which will leave two drivers to face off in the final where pole position will be decided.
It might sound a little complicated on paper, but it should be quite simple once you’ve seen it in action.
Will the new format be a success?
Without doubt, the revamp is a major upgrade from the old format. We will get a true indicator as to who is the best driver over one lap, rather than the potential of having a driver who has done a good job, but benefited from track conditions.
As ever, the margins will be incredibly close and the drivers will have to deliver on four occasions if they want to grab that elusive pole position. This will seriously test whether the drivers can push the limit more and more, getting closer to the walls with every lap to gain lap time.
“The changes being made to qualifying and race time reflect our and the FIA’s focus on sporting integrity and maximising the racing spectacle,” said Formula E Co-founder Alberto Longo.
“Our new qualifying format will showcase the teams and drivers head-to-head throughout the season while still allowing any driver on their day to take pole position. For our fans, the new qualifying format was designed to be intuitive, unpredictable, and entertaining.”
Formula E have thought about the possibility that qualifying could take up too much time, but sending the cars out at intervals will help that and it will give fans numerous mini crescendos, before one big climax in the final.
The championship has done been excellent at adapting rules and thinking of bold ideas to improve the integrity of the series and the new qualifying format underlines that.
Formula E want to create a storyline this year, so rivalries can form and events can evolve. The all-electric series’ qualifying revamp will likely help that ambition and it has all of the credentials to be a revolution.