Reverse-grid races are back on Formula 1’s agenda, but it’s impossible to fairly evaluate the pros and cons if people don’t understand the actual proposal. Lots of drivers have criticised F1’s idea based on a generic principle of reversing the grid rather than assessing what F1 actually wants to do.
The proposal is for four races next year to have a 30-minute qualifying race instead of the normal qualifying session. This race would have a grid set by reversing the championship order. Then the result of the race would set the grid for the grand prix.
This weekend’s Russian Grand Prix is a prime contender because it’s unlikely to be an interesting race. In another world we could have a qualifying race with a reverse-grid this weekend. So for example, Romain Grosjean’s Haas would start the qualifying race from pole position but he’d likely fallen well down the order, maybe hold on to eighth or ninth, and so he’d start Sunday’s race in eight or ninth – then probably finish outside the points in the race itself.
The poleman would be incredibly unlikely to win Sunday’s grand prix. As would an Alfa Romeo or a Williams, or even the midfield teams like AlphaTauri or Renault, because across a 30-minute race and then a full Sunday grand prix Mercedes and Red Bull would come through the order.
Ross Brawn has got excited about the idea after AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly won the Italian Grand Prix. There’s a lot of people who seem to think Monza was a real endorsement of using reverse grids and showed what happens when you have mixed up races. I don’t think that was an advert for or against reverse grids.
There wasn’t much overtaking because a combination of the new engine mode rule, the DRS train, and the difference in downforce settings that different teams were employing. It added up to a situation where nobody really was able to launch much of an attack. So in that situation a reverse-grid is probably going to create a situation where effectively the quickest car after the bottom three teams is probably may just get in front and then hold on.
But this ignores the fact it would only be for the qualifying race. It’d be highly unlikely that quali race winner would hold on in the GP itself. So I think Monza’s a bit of a red herring in this discussion.
I like the fact that we can have these sorts of races without imposing reverse grids. But I don’t like the fact that we have to sit through very boring races like Spain or Belgium in order to appreciate them. We are now 18 months away from a new era that’s supposed to make F1 racing more interesting – and I sincerely hope the incoming technical changes, and a budget cap, combine to make everything better. Along those lines, I also understand why it might feel like it’s a little bit too late to do something.
But I would like to see F1 experiment. I’d like to see one or two races where you have a properly thought out reverse grid format on a circuit that would it work at without being ridiculous, just so that we’ve got an answer in reality.
Then we can either been the idea completely or we can try and incorporate it into F1 2022 and beyond, because we can say we know there’s going to be certain circuits where even this new formula isn’t really going to be great for racing, so maybe we’ll have a reverse grid qualifying race there that sets the grid for the grand prix.
I’d just like to have some concrete evidence because all this discussion does for me is crystallise the difficulty of the reverse grid argument. Because it’s just hypothetical. Trying to say that Monza would have been better worse or the same in a different set of circumstances that aren’t defined is impossible. Once you’ve defined those circumstances, the outcome may change. So why not give it a go, as an experiment?
Ross Brawn seems absolutely adamant that he’s going to table again. It looked like they were going to get the votes that they need with the new rulemaking process where don’t need full unanimity to put a rule change through at this stage for next season. But now it’s not clear whether they’ll get the votes.
I’d be keen on an experiment just because I want a firm answer, and for a world as scientific as F1 to stop dealing in hypotheticals.