How Does F1 Qualifying Work: Sessions, Sprints, Tire Choice

Year after year, fans of the FIA Formula One World Championship are always impressed by the mind-blowing speeds and sheer power of modern F1 cars. If you’re a rookie spectator in the sport, the qualifying session setups might leave you confused—especially as sprint qualifying weekends were introduced. F1 qualifying results determine the starting grid positions for the main part of the weekend—the race.

In this article, we’ll break down everything there is to know about the F1 qualifying format and explain how each session works, as well as the less-known rules of the game.

Learn in This Article

  • How Does F1 Qualifying Work
  • Out Laps
  • Use of the DRS
  • The 107% Rule
  • F1 Sprint Qualifying
  • Fastest Qualifying Lap Ever
  • Points System

How Does F1 Qualifying Work

The qualifying session is the first competitive part of each race weekend and sets the grid positions for the race itself. Each driver has a few laps to set their fastest time—the drivers will start at their respective positions on Sunday’s grid. Let’s start with how many qualifying rounds are there in F1.

Q1 Session: 16th–20th

The first session lasts for exactly 18 minutes. This part of qualifying determines positions 16th-20th.

Q2 Session: 11th–15th

Q2 session fills positions 11 through 15 on the Sunday starting grid. The drivers now have 15 minutes to set their best lap times.

Up until season 2021, this qualifying session was strategically important for all drivers, as the tires last used in these 15 minutes were the ones that each car had to start the Sunday race on. Per F1 qualifying rules for 2022, teams can choose whichever type of tires they want to start the race on.

Q3 Session: Top 10

The third qualifying session sets the 10 fastest drivers for a twelve-minute showdown in a drive for the coveted pole position. Sometimes the drivers will opt to set their car up to perform well in qualifying, but this usually comes with a cost in race pace.

The Q3 is usually driven on the softest tire compound provided by Pirelli that weekend (each race has its own set of available tires). Of course, a few rain drops can change this, as all drivers must switch to “wet” (for heavy rain) or “intermediate” (for a drizzle) tires.

Out Laps

Each driver must complete one lap after rejoining the track from the pit lane. This is because the pit lane exit is located past the circuit start line, so starting a lap from there means you’re not completing the entire lap. The drivers usually use the out laps to warm up their tires and prepare for a flying lap.

DRS Use in Qualifying

DRS concept is used differently in qualifying than it is in the actual race. All drivers have the right to use DRS in the designated zones, regardless if they’re within one second behind another driver on the track—a rule that does stand for racing Sundays.

The 107% Qualifying Rule

The 107% rule is a technical regulation that F1 uses to ensure that the cars are not too slow. It is known as the “107%” because it obliges any F1 driver to qualify within 107% of the fastest qualifying time in each session. If they don’t, then they fail to qualify for the race and therefore can’t compete in a Sunday race.

This means that if one driver qualifies in 1:54, then all other drivers must qualify at or under 2:03; if one driver qualifies in 2:00, then no other driver can start with a lap time slower than 2:14, etc. This helps keep speeds fair among teams since they all have to follow certain rules when designing their cars.

How Does F1 Sprint Qualifying Work

Sprint qualifying is a new format introduced for the 2021 season. When it comes to the 2022 sprint race calendar, only three F1 circuits will host it: Imola, Styria, and Sao Paulo.

The FIA is still testing this format, mostly as a way to make the racing weekend more eventful. The fans’ and drivers’ opinions about it are very much divided so far, but it’s left to see how things will develop in the future.

For the moment, an F1 weekend that includes a sprint race is separated into four on-track events:

  • Free Practices
  • Qualifying
  • F1 Sprint
  • F1 Race

The F1 sprint race is 100 kilometers (62.1371 miles) of racing, with no obligatory pit stops. The qualifying determines the grid positions for the sprint race, but the final order of a sprint race is what will set the grid for the main race itself—the results from this session determine which driver makes it onto pole position for a Sunday’s Grand Prix.

How Many Laps Is Sprint Qualifying

Sprint race length isn’t determined by a strictly set number of laps for each race in the season—rather, it’s set to cca. 100 kilometers, which means some tracks will have more laps than others.

For example, the Silverstone Sprint in 2021 lasted for 17 laps, while the Interlagos one was 24 laps long. This is because of the different lengths of each track: the Silverstone circuit is 5.891 km long, while the Brazilian Grand Prix is the third-shortest in the current calendar, at 4.309 km.

What’s the Fastest Time Ever Recorded in F1 Qualifying

Each circuit has its own lap record. These are almost exclusively accomplished in qualifying sessions as cars are at this point set to low fuel (making them lighter, which effectively means less drag).

The fastest qualifying lap belongs to Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes W11. He drove a lap around Monza in 2020 at the average speed of 164.267 mph.

Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes W11
Mercedes W11

Do Drivers Get Awarded Any Points for Qualifying Positions

In the most accurate terms: no. Drivers are not awarded points for their qualifying positions—they do, however, receive some points when there’s a sprint race format involved.

In 2021, only the top three finishers receive points: three points for the winner, two for a runner-upper, and one for the third podium place. This, however, changed in 2022 when it was decided that the top eight finishers would each receive points—eight for the winner with every subsequent racer receiving a point less.

Besides sprint racing, Formula One teams get awarded points only in the Sunday race, with the top ten finishers scoring them in the following format:

  • 1st place—25 points
  • 2nd place—18 points
  • 3rd place—15 points
  • 4th place—12 points
  • 5th place—10 points
  • 6th place—8 points
  • 7th place—6 points
  • 8th—4 points
  • 9th—2 points
  • 10th—1 point