The Q2 tyre rule has been at the centre of any teams’ strategy-planning for a race ever since it was introduced. The official wording of the rule in the FIA F1 sporting regulations is: ‘‘With the exception of any cars that are required to start the race from the pitlane, at the start of the race each car which qualified for Q3 must be fitted with the tyres with which the driver set his fastest time during Q2’’.
Written By Oskar Yigen, Edited By Ryan Lack
The intention of the rule is to create more exciting races by forcing the fastest drivers in qualifying to start on a sub-optimal tyre compared to what the rest of the grid is starting on. More often than not, the best tyre to start a race on is the medium tyre, whereas most drivers have to use the soft tyre in order to make it into Q3, therefore forcing them to start on that tyre. That is at least what the FIA thought.
And the rule actually does generate action in the midfield. During the last couple of years, drivers who have qualified between 7th and 10th place have generally required the use of soft compound tyres in order to make it into Q3. 11th place and downwards however, have (for the most part) elected to start on the advantageous medium tyre. In most races, this has made for a great battle between those drivers, and ultimately a different race result compared to the qualifying order – which was the intention of the rule.
Nonetheless, the racing at the front has actually deteriorated since this rule was introduced. Due mainly to the top 3 teams of late being so far ahead of the rest, that they’ve always been able to get through to Q3 on the optimal start tyre (with 2020, where there effectively only was one and a half top team, being an exception). This has essentially locked the top teams onto more or less the exact same strategies, which does nothing but produce dull and repetitive racing.
If the rule didn’t exist, and everyone had a free choice of which tyre they would start the race on, there’d be the possibility of strategic gambles from midfield, and potentially even top teams. Someone could decide to smack on the hard tyre and go long in the first stint, just to see what would happen. With factors like temperature, weather, safety cars and unexpected tyre wear coming into play, this might turn races on their heads, or at least make for unpredictable on- and off-track battles.
The most recent example of such a strategic ‘‘roll of the dice’’ was the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, where Red Bull and Max Verstappen chose to take the risk of trying to get into Q3 on the hard tyre (something which was only possible due to the tyre allocation from Pirelli for that weekend being particularly soft) and thus starting the race on it, compared to the much faster Mercedes’ on mediums.
Verstappen was able to extend his first stint much further into the race than both the Mercedes’, and this combined with the German team having excessive blistering on their tyres, meant that Verstappen could snatch an unlikely win from the Mercedes team who -until that point- looked unbeatable.
Admittedly, scenarios like the above-mentioned may not occur at every Grand Prix, even if the Q2 tyre rule is removed, and teams are able to freely choose which tyres to start on. But it might take place more frequently. Furthermore, the top teams may have to begin looking over their shoulders a bit if there’s constantly the threat of someone behind lucking into an alternative strategy – something which again will change the dynamics of on-going strategic battles.
In conclusion, I think that the Q2 tyre rule should be removed, and it can only happen too slowly. As fans, most of us want to see action at the front – not only in the midfield. Therefore, the sport needs to adapt. What worked 5 years ago doesn’t necessarily work today. It’s frustrating seeing one race after the other turning into a snooze-fest after five laps, especially when you know that the rules and regulations are one of the contributing factors. Change is needed.