Ghost cars in F1? Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso share brilliant qualifying format ideas

Thomas Maher
Ferrari's Carlos Sainz leads Red Bull's Sergio Perez at the Canadian Grand Prix. Montreal, June 2023. Ghost cars

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz leads Red Bull's Sergio Perez at the Canadian Grand Prix. Montreal, June 2023.

Formula 1’s resident Spaniards have had a unique idea on how to tackle the obstacle of excessive traffic on track during qualifying sessions, suggesting the introduction of ‘ghost cars’.

Traffic affecting qualifying laps can be a big headache for the teams and drivers during a busy qualifying session, with impeding drivers often picking up grid penalties for the more egregious offences.

While traffic isn’t always an issue at the longer tracks, it’s a real problem at short circuits such as this weekend’s venue, the Red Bull Ring. With 20 cars attempting to qualify at a track barely 65 seconds long, it can be very difficult for cars to have enough space to run in clear air.

Fernando Alonso suggests single-lap qualifying as a measure for shorter venues

Speaking to the media ahead of this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso offered his thoughts on how F1 could tackle the problem at venues where traffic is expected to be problematic.

The Spaniard offered the idea of single-lap qualifying, as was used between 2003 and 2005, as it means maximum exposure, and maximum pressure, for every driver.

“It is a topic every weekend, especially at short circuits,” Alonso said.

“I don’t know, there are a few options to improve this. One is single-lap qualifying, like in the past – that would be ideal, in my opinion, because [there would] only [be] one car on track and full TV coverage for that lap.

“For everyone, sponsors and things like that, that would create a little bit of drama in case of, you know, weather changes in between qualifyings –  you could see different cars on pole position, different names.

“So that would certainly be my preferred option.

“You could also split the grid like junior formulas do in Monaco and things like that, but it is a topic now.”

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Carlos Sainz suggests ‘ghost cars’ to enliven single-lap action

Sitting alongside Alonso in the Drivers’ Press Conference, Sainz agreed with his compatriot’s suggestions, and expanding on the idea to offer the idea of a ‘ghost car’ appearing for television viewers at home.

“I think the shorter-term solution would be to, at least, do Q1 on a 10-car split – one car from each team in each qualifying group,” he said.

“Then I think, by Q2, the traffic already improves quite a bit, Q3 is not a problem. So it would be only short tracks, Q1, maybe divide the session by half to eight minutes with one group, eight minutes with another group.

“Anyway, it shouldn’t affect because the performance of the cars are split. That’s a short-term solution. The single-lap qualifying is maybe something to experiment with as Fernando said, maybe at sprint weekends to try if it would work.

“I personally am a fan of it because I do like that feeling of suddenly having the whole track for you and having the pressure to perform only in one lap.

“That would be really good fun for us, I think for our sponsors and for everyone. But maybe, for the TV, it would be boring for you.

“But I don’t know, it depends on the technology.

“You could animate that single lap – if you could put a ghost car of the fastest lap. I think, with the technology that we have nowadays, something like that could be achievable with the mini sectors with ghost cars – that kind of stuff that I think we should look into.”

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