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Drivers call for change on qualifying format

Oliver Rowland (Nissan e.dams), Diriyah E-Prix. Credit: Courtesy of Formula E

Formula E drivers have again called for a change to the series’ controversial qualifying format, which could become a decisive factor in the championship battle.

The current qualifying system was introduced ahead of the 2018/19 season, replacing the lottery method previously in place. Under the new format, the top six drivers must go out on track first, with the other groups following in descending order. This has proved successful in getting a mixed grid so that the faster cars have to work their way to the front.

However, the system has also come under criticism from various quarters. Critics believe it hampers the leading championship contenders just to improve the show.

In addition, the evolution of the track (which gets faster over time) often forces drivers to wait until the final moments of their group session before leaving the pits, leading to some absurd qualifying sessions and causing a lot of chaos.

Rowland has fallen victim to the current format in Saudi Arabia. He qualified 10th and 13th for the two races after being placed 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 think about shortening the gap between final practice and qualifying to ensure the track is grippy enough for drivers who start in the first group.

“It’s a bit too extreme sometimes. I get that they want exciting racing, but at the same time from a racing driver’s point of view.

Oliver Rowland, Nissan Racing

He added: “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, he said: “Of course. I don’t think anybody’s going to 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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