Explained: The new qualifying format in place at the Hungarian Grand Prix

Thomas Maher
The race start of the 2022 Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2022.

The race start of the 2022 Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2022.

Formula 1 will use a revised qualifying format this weekend at the Hungaroring, having been originally planned for the Imola race.

While this weekend is not a Sprint format event, the Formula 1 teams in Hungary still have to contend with a different approach to the standard qualifying procedure on Saturday.

The usual Q1, Q2, and Q3 sessions are in place to determine the grid for Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix but, following months of delay after the format was initially set for the cancelled round at Imola, a rule change is in place for the all-important qualifying hour in Budapest.

Mercedes: Qualifying changes will ‘add to the challenge’

Rather than having free choice of tyre, drivers will be made to go through each portion of qualifying on a particular compound – Q1 will see the teams obliged to use the Hard tyre, Q2 the Medium, and Q3 the Soft. The reason for this is to allow Pirelli to reduce the amount of tyre sets brought to the Grand Prix, with a not-insignificant two sets of tyres per car no longer required to be ferried to the race.

With just 11 sets of tyres for each car, the teams will be given four sets of softs, four sets of mediums, and three sets of hards – all three compounds being mandated will mean at least one new set of each will be used during qualifying.

“It will definitely add to the challenge,” Joseph McMillan, Mercedes’ senior race strategy engineer said of the changes.

“When it comes to qualifying, we are usually focused on how we get the best out of the soft tyre on a single lap. That includes assessing what the optimum tyre preparation is, what the best out-lap profile looks like, among other things. We now must think about that for three different compounds.

But one change that makes life slightly easier for the teams is the fact Pirelli have brought along the softest compounds in their range for the event: ” Last year, we saw the C2, C3, and C4 tyres here but, this year, we will use the C3, C4, and C5. So although it’s the hard tyre, that corresponds to last year’s medium and that will help.”

What effect will the tyre rules change have on how the teams approach the weekend?

According to McMillan, the mandated compound usage will mean the teams have to approach practice differently in order to best understand the compounds – failure to do so could mean getting knocked out of qualifying early.

“We’ll probably see a lot more varied running in practice,” he said.

“We always do single-lap work on each compound of tyre. But usually, running on the hard tyre just helps the drivers get their eye in for their running on the soft tyre.

“This weekend, I suspect there will be more discussion around it. In terms of run plans, it will be fascinating to see what everyone does. Each team interprets the ‘obvious’ thing to do slightly differently. How they divide their time and tyre allocation between qualifying and race preparations will be interesting.

“You don’t want to be compromised by doing your single lap running when everyone else is focused on long runs. You want to avoid traffic and you don’t want to be completely different to everyone else, as you then have very little idea where you stack up in terms of pace.”

PlanetF1.com recommends

The seven drivers out of contract at the end of the F1 2023 season

F1 tyres explained: All the technical info and key Pirelli compounds

But the fact the soft tyre won’t appear during Q1 and Q2 means there’s a knock-on effect for potential race strategies.

“With more sets of the medium and hard tyre than we usually take, we will likely end up with a tyre allocation for the Grand Prix that looks much nicer than at other races,” he explained.

“The soft C5 is highly unlikely to be a race tyre. The medium and hard compound will likely be preferred and, with more sets of those to play with, we should be in a better position than usual.”

Despite being a seemingly small change to the format, McMillan explained it has resulted in a lot of extra work back at Brackley: “We’ve agreed an initial proposal of what we will do but we continue to adapt this across the weekend. We’ve also had to make a code change to our simulations so that it understands this qualifying format.”

The alternative qualifying format will be used at the Hungarian and Italian Grands Prix, with the idea then being put forward to the F1 Commission as to whether or not to adopt it for every race in 2024.

Why are the tyre compound rules being tweaked for qualifying?

Earlier in the year, Pirelli motorsport boss Mario Isola explained to PlanetF1.com why the alternative qualifying format is being trialled.

“There is a plan from sustainability in Formula 1 where they are going to analyse every single detail to find a way to make the sport more sustainable and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030,” he said.

“That’s the plan, and it is a long journey, we know that there is a lot to do. Part of the discussion was how can we reduce the transportation of material because logistics in Formula 1 – in any motorsport championship – is a big part. In this discussion, there was a proposal to reduce the number of tyres.

“Obviously, it’s not easy, because we have a current situation that is working well – they have enough tyres for practice, qualifying, and the race. But we needed to find a way to reduce the tyres. So we needed to make a clever decision and that is to do that step by step, not to damage the show, for example, we test a format that is not going to work.”

Read Next: The inside story from Pirelli on the new F1 2023 qualifying format trial