Formula E drivers call for change to qualifying format

Formula E drivers have made renewed calls for a change to the series’ controversial qualifying format, which they believe could become a determining factor in the championship fight.

Formula E drivers call for change to qualifying format

The current system of qualifying was introduced ahead of season five in 2018/19, replacing the lottery method that had been in place previously. As per the new format, the entire field is still grouped on the basis of their championship positions, but the top six drivers must go out on track first, with the other groups following them in descending standings order.

This has proved successful in terms of delivering a mixed starting grid, with the added entertainment aspect of fastest cars having to make their way up the field.

However, the system has also come under fire from several quarters, with critics believing it hampers the leading championship contenders just to improve the show.

Moreover, rapid track evolution often forces drivers to wait until the dying moments in their group session before leaving the pits, leading to some farcical qualifying sessions.

In the penultimate round of the 2019/20 season in Berlin, DS Techeetah duo Jean-Eric Vergne, Antonio Felix da Costa, Audi’s Lucas di Grassi and Nissan driver Sebastien Buemi all failed to complete their timed laps before their six-minute group session was over.

More recently, Jaguar’s Mitch Evans lashed out at Nissan rival Oliver Rowland for backing up the field in the second Diriyah qualifying, which meant the chequered flag was shown before he or Audi’s Rene Rast could begin their flying laps.

Rowland himself was adversely affected by the current format in Saudi Arabia, qualifying 10th and 13th respectively for the two races after being put in the first group on each occasion.

The Nissan driver, who believes he had the pace to be on the front row in Riyadh, said Formula E should consider cutting the gap between final practice and qualifying to ensure the track is grippy enough for drivers starting in the first group.

This, however, wouldn’t be without its pitfalls, as any driver that suffers a crash in practice may not be able to take part in qualifying due to the limited time frame to repair the car.

“It’s a bit too extreme sometimes,” Rowland told Motorsport.com when asked for his views on the qualifying format. “I get that they want exciting racing, but at the same time from a racing driver’s point of view…

"[In Riyadh] I feel like I did the best job of anybody and I came away with sixth and ninth [in the races]. It doesn’t really show the full picture of everything that was going on. 

“Creating exciting racing, I get that. I just think there is a better way to do it. Or put qualifying a bit closer to FP2 so the track isn’t completely in mess for Q1. [If] qualifying [was] half an hour after free practice two, it’s fixed. That’s how I see.”

Asked if the qualifying format could play a role in deciding who wins the championship this season, Rowland said: “Of course. I don’t think anybody’s gonna run away with it. It could be someone in the group two in the last race wins and wins the championship. 

“Last year, Antonio [Felix da Costa] managed to do in a few races in group one and win, and he won the championship. The real aim has to be to win from group one, and then you win the championship.”

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The Diriyah E-Prix wasn't the first time Evans was caught out by the current qualifying format, having also failed to set a timed lap in the Marrakesh round 12 months ago.

However, while on that occasion Jaguar admitted that the team simply left it too late to release Evans from the pitlane, it feels it left enough margin for the Kiwi to start his flying lap this time.

Team principal James Barclay instead pointed the finger at Jaguar's rivals, calling them out for a lack of sportsmanship.

“What happened there was a professional foul in essence,” Barclay told Motorsport.com. “Holding drivers up is something which we need to look at. 

“We’re at the world championship level now, everyone should have an opportunity to have a quali lap. All’s fair in love and racing, but you have to really allow fair sportsmanship and that pushed the mark. 

“Where we are in the pitlane, basically the teams at the top of the pitlane can simply wait for us to leave. As soon as we leave, they go in front of us and they control the pace. 

“To control the pace to the point where you force a rival not to start his quali lap, for me that crosses the line.”

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