After Scott McLaughlin’s maiden title triumph in a final showdown in Newcastle the year before, Supercars in 2019 was poised to deliver another battle of the heavyweights. However, controversy has left a bitter aftertaste.
Formula One drivers are well known to explore their boundaries in order to find that extra edge or advantage, but what occurred during qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix was ridiculous.
The long straights of Monza offer high top-speeds and if drivers utilise slipstreaming, then the advantage could be several tenths of a second.
An advantage that all tried gambling upon during Q3 – where nine of the ten drivers missed the opportunity to start a final flying lap, due to all backing each other up.
A “comedy show”, as described by driver Lance Stroll, it was laughable that despite the drivers being briefed by race director Michael Masi, penalties will be given to those engaging in these tactics.
For spectators and fans, it was an anti-climactic conclusion, which saw Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on pole position.
Can this scenario be avoided in the future though, given it is unlikely that the drivers are ever going to adhere to official direction regarding not queueing up at Monza or Spa?
New management’s sporting chiefs have openly discussed investigations into future format changes, with Ross Brawn expressing a desire to see “variations” across the traditional race weekend – including experimenting with qualifying.
Formula One dabbled with changes to qualifying as recently as 2016, with an ill-fated elimination system which saw drivers kicked out across the one-hour session, every 90 seconds.
This concept was poorly received and only lasted two races before reverting to the current system.
While the incumbent format is largely successful, there should be a slight change made: the introduction of a top-ten shootout at select races.
The proposal would mirror the system currently used to great success in the Supercars championship, whereby the ten fastest drivers – say from Q1 and Q2 – would progress to the final session, where they are afforded one lap each to determine who is on pole.
First up would be the driver who was tenth fastest in the preceding Q2, with the fastest in that phase of qualifying last out.
Variation in track temperatures and weather conditions bring the potential for unpredictability to that final session.
This would put great onus on the driver and their skill, as seen in Supercars at the gnarly street circuits and legendary venues such as Bathurst, where the shootout is one of the most important qualifying laps of the season.
Viewing wise, there is truly few greater spectacles than having eyes glued to a pole-setting lap at Mount Panorama.
Rather than having the shootout at every race, it should be spread across different races – with the traditional three-phase knockout format retained for other rounds.
Races such as the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix would be ideal for shootouts, preventing what occurred last weekend, while the gruelling concrete jungle of Singapore and the jewel in the crown that is Monaco would have increased emphasis on a single driver and a single lap.
Shorter circuits – like the Red Bull Ring, Interlagos and, from 2020, Zandvoort – are other possible venues to include in the roster of races to hold shootouts.
Unlike the one-lap format, which was seen in Formula One between 2003 and 2005, at least having a regular Q1 and Q2 will allow for the sessions to progress quickly and fans not to be deprived of any track activity.
Instead where there may be a shakeup is if one of the top drivers misses the cut in the previous two sessions – a surprise contender may sneak through to the shootout and jumble the top ten.
It may not be as radical as Brawn’s idea for a qualifying race but on paper it is pure and would put the spotlight back on the drivers.
When a lap of qualifying comes to mind, it is through revisiting the intensity of Ayrton Senna’s 1988 pole lap on the streets of Monaco or Scott McLaughlin’s epic Supercars shootout lap at the treacherous Mount Panorama in 2017.