Changes to the shootout rules for the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix have raised eyebrows within the motorsport community. Following a unanimous vote by drivers in a Friday night briefing, the standard maximum lap time protocol was eliminated, sparking debate about the qualifying process.
Traditionally, drivers are bound by a certain time limit for in- and out-laps during qualifying laps, enshrined to prevent them from going “unnecessarily slowly”. However, the belief was that these constraints would have a negative impact on tyre preparation coupled with the conviction that there was enough space on the track to manage traffic effectively. This persuaded drivers to drop this clause.
Despite these modifications, the end of Q1 saw a struggle for track position, with an incident involving Max Verstappen and Williams rookie Logan Sargeant due to track congestion. Reports confirm Verstappen was absolved of accusations of impeding Sargeant due to the absence of alternate routes for the Red Bull driver in midst of the congestion.
This situation prompted Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin to share his views, suggesting that the three-tier qualifying format introduced in 2006 is no longer suited to current times. Alonso insinuated that drivers would always find ways to bend the rules to their advantage, thereby making the role of the FIA complex. He noted, “It is difficult to handle, I think. Whatever [the FIA] do, we will find a way to sail that kind of rule. They have a very difficult job in terms of managing traffic on street circuits and things like that.”
Alonso proposed a return to a single-lap system deployed in 2003, where cars individually took turns on the track, with each car only given one chance to clock a timing. The 42-year-old champion summed up his suggestion saying, “I have said many times that there is only one way to find a solution which is single-lap qualifying. All the other solutions we can test but will never work because we will find a way.”
Further elaborating his point, Alonso stated this format had been in practice for nearly two decades, but the sport and its technology have evolved significantly since then. Considering the difference in car mechanics like hybrid engines, battery charging, and tyre cooling, the former world champion was adamant that the best solution lay in one-lap qualifying.
Lando Norris from McLaren provided an additional perspective to the proposed changes in lap time rules. He proposed, “Initially, the reasoning for having it was to limit approaching speed differences, especially in Monza. They said the reason for it was not to try and sort out traffic and overtaking but to sort out people going 10km/h when you go 300km/h into the last corner. That’s not a safety issue, that’s just driving to find your own position. If you don’t want this, you can go out five minutes earlier and get on with your lap and do it yourself. I think it was a good decision that they made, it was better for everyone.”