Patrick Head of the Williams team has suggested today that reverse grids might be a good way to spice up the races, putting the fastest driver in qualifying at the back and the slowest at the front. This would mean the duration of the race is made up of the fastest driver trying to negotiate his way to the front, creating more opportunities for the illusive overtaking maneuvers and generally adding to the excitement of a grand prix. However, I don’t think Patrick Head has fully thought this through yet.
If you allow the guys to do all this practice and testing and then you line them up with the fastest at the front and the slowest at the back, why should there be any overtaking? Patrick Head.
On the face of it, the idea does seem interesting, almost appealing. But after further thought, I came to the conclusion that it simply wouldn’t work.
If the grid was decided on the reverse-qualifying pace (which I hasten to add isn’t exactly what Head has said), then qualifying would become even more of a farce than it currently is. If I were Kimi Raikkonen, I would be driving as slow as possible to ensure I started the race at the front. Of course, this is an obvious reason against Head’s idea, so I’m sure there would be rules in place to prevent such an occurrence (using the percentage rule for example). But it would still make qualifying a farce; the fastest driver deserves to start from the front, hence why qualifying exists and why it is the only part of the race weekend where we really get to see the cars at their quickest.
What Head is actually suggesting though is that the cars line up in reverse championship order. As an example, had Formula One used this technique of deciding the grid, the 2007 Malaysian Grand Prix would have seen Christijan Albers on pole followed by Scott Speed and Robert Kubica. At the back would be Kimi Raikkonen in 22nd, Fernando Alonso in 21st and Lewis Hamilton in 20th. This grid would have made for an interesting race, but I can’t help but feel that the fastest driver deserves to be at the top, the slowest at the bottom.
Patrick suggests that this idea may encourage more overtaking, having slower cars ahead of faster cars. Head does admit that perhaps this would make overtaking easier, but a pass is still a pass at the end of the day. I though do not fully understand the whole overtaking issue. For sure, some circuits are prone to a processional race. Monaco is one particular track that, while glamorous and historical, tends to aid a game of follow my leader rather than motor racing. But on the whole, I don’t see too much of a problem with overtaking in the sport. It is difficult, definitely, but that just means when a pass is made it is usually quite special. The 2005 Japanese Grand Prix stands out in my memory with Raikkonen and Alonso all making superb moves on equally fast cars.
If overtaking is the reasoning behind Patrick’s idea, then reversing the grids won’t work. Overtaking will become common and boring. The Ferraris and McLarens will simply power past the Force Indias and Rossos, such is the difference in grip and handling between the machines. The spectacle of seeing Raikkonen at the back of the grid would only last until mid-distance and the final half would then become the dreaded procession. If overtaking is the issue, then the solution is less focus on aerodynamics.
And finally, reverse grids work well in other series. But I need to add that these other series run more than one race over the course of a weekend. The first grid is usually decided by a regular qualifying session, be it over several laps or a one lap shoot-out, or even a short sprint race. The first race starts with this grid and the second either reverses the first qualifying order or reverses the result from the first race. That is how it is done. Formula One however has only the one race in a weekend.
I don’t see reverse grids being that great of an idea, but if you have a different opinion, please share in the comments below.