Alstare Boss Batta Suggests Scrapping Two Qualifier Rule For WSBK Superpole

The new Superpole format introduced in World Superbikes - three sessions of 12 minutes, with 12 riders eliminated during the first two of those sessions - has generally been met with much enthusiasm. The sessions are much more exciting than the former single-fast-lap format, and have thrown up several surprises. Most of those surprises have been caused by the tire rules: In a twist to the format, the riders are only allowed to use two super-soft qualifying tires. With two tires to spread over three sessions, qualifying has been a bit of a gamble, with riders as prominent as Max Biaggi and Max Neukirchner finding themselves knocked out of the first session, and forced to start from the fifth row of the grid.

The qualifying tire rule has come in for a lot of criticism, from fans, teams and journalists alike, who point to the fact that slower riders have been able to get through the early superpole sessions by throwing in a qualifier at the start, while nominally faster riders who choose to save their qualifiers for an attempt at the front row are being knocked out.

As manager of the Alstare Brux Suzuki team, the flamboyant Francis Batta has also railed against the qualifying tire rule, and according to Motorsport Aktuell, he will be tabling a proposal to change this at Monza. "Superpole has been a lottery," Batta told MSA, who has also complained of the top riders being knocked out. "My proposal is this: the soft qualifying tires will only be given to the last eight riders in the third Superpole session. That way, the top riders will be able to fight with equal equipment."

Although Batta's proposal would save money - at least for Pirelli - it begs the question of why a qualifying tire should be used at all. If the riders are to be on equal tires in each of the sessions, then why not just scrap the qualifiers altogether?

Others have proposed that the riders should be given three qualifiers, to use as they see fit over the three Superpole sessions. The brave could save two tires for the final session, while those who are less sure of their times could attempt to use a qualifier to get them through the first knockout phase.

But all this begs the question of exactly what the qualifying sessions are meant to achieve. If the point is merely to reward the fastest riders, then the grid would look eerily similar at every race - as it has in MotoGP, since the qualifying tires have been scrapped. The top riders are the top riders, and without the breathtaking grip of a super-sticky qualifier and the mixture of foolhardiness and bravery required to get the most out of it, no qualifying specialists have been able to break their hegemony.

The beauty of World Superbike's knockout Superpole system - at least in this commentator's opinion - is precisely that it provides an element of chance into the proceedings. From a simple question of who can put in the fastest lap, the two-qualifiers-for-three-sessions rule turns the early sessions into a game of poker. If you know you're fast enough - Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga come to mind - then you don't need to use up your qualifiers to make it through the first cut from 20 riders down to 16. Only the riders who qualified in the bottom half in practice need to use a qualifier, which in turn forces the riders in 7th and 8th place to gamble on being fast enough on race tires, and save their qualifiers, or use up the first of the super-soft tires to ensure they get through to the second Superpole session.

This pattern is repeated in the second Superpole session, but the cut is much harsher, with half of the remaining 16 riders being excluded from the final 12 minute session. Again, the really fast guys will usually make it without using a qualifier, but the guys in 4th and 5th spot have to think twice about whether to gamble or to play it safe.

For the riders using qualifiers early to get through the first knockout sessions, they know their choices will leave with little chance of taking pole, but starting from the second row on the grid must surely be better than starting from the fourth or fifth row on the grid.

So the teams and riders are forced to work out how much extra time they believe the riders will get from a qualifier, and where that will leave them in the knockout sessions. It is not exactly rocket science, but it does need careful deliberation, and makes it impossible for the teams to exclude chance altogether. As the season progresses, they will get a better feel for the process, and understand when they should gamble and when to play it safe. By the end of the year, there should be fewer major shocks, but still a few surprises.

Only four rounds in is perhaps a little early to be drawing conclusions about the new Superpole format, but personally, I think it's a success. Complaints that it is a lottery should be taken for what they are, complaints by team bosses who want to ensure that their riders are on the front of the grid. After all, with Ben Spies taking pole position at all four race weekends so far, it's a pretty strange lottery that sees the same winner every week.

Back to top

Comments

Two qualifiers for 3 qualifying heats is a deeply flawed system. If you want an element of chance, watch poker on television. This is racing, and fans want to see which riders are the fastest, not a guessing game about when to use a qualifier.

Total votes: 81

There's also this small issue called safety vs excitement. For safety you really want the fastest riders at the front. For our excitement, you'd want the fastest riders at the back.

But mostly, can we please just stop this messing around. If we're going to have a 3 stage, devil take the hindmost, then we should either have loads of qualifiers or none. What we have at the moment is neither one thing or the other.

And didn't Haslam have one race where he started 18th or so? Surely that's reason enough to remove this artificial constraint. We can't have Brits being penalised, now can we.

You voted 3. Total votes: 81

There are two races, and absolutely no law that says that both grids need to be identical except that is the way it has always been in WSB. So, why not form the grid for the first race based on absolute fastest time set in any stage of qualifying, and the grid for the second using the current method?

That way, we get the excitement and the wildcard element that the new rules have introduced, but also provide some compensation to the people who get a bad qualifier or get baulked on their one and only fast lap on a qualifier in the first superpole session.

Best of both worlds?

Total votes: 84

I don't know why many of the suggested solutions to this problem wind up being even more complicated than the current format. Just keep the existing format, but either dole out 3 sets of qualifiers to each rider, or disallow qualifiers completely. Problem solved.

Total votes: 71

I was at PI for the first round and the element of chance was a huge factor in making SP worth hanging around for. If you have unlimited qualifiers, then the form is the same from the earlier QP. So no point in hanging around.

And let's be honest. The difference between the fastest and slowest (the one safety criticism) is tiny. We're not talking club racing with 5s a lap difference, so the safety argument is null and void.

It also means that a smaller team that might struggle to get consistent air time (for their sponsors), can get through to the 2nd stage and then run at the front for a few laps. Who knows, running higher up might allow them to learn more and improve overall.

And let's not forget that the rule is the same for everyone. It favours no-one and does not discriminate. It was funny hearing the previous Superpole king (Corser) whining about how it wasn't fair. He didn't seem to mind that the mind numbingly boring previous format favoured a rider like him who was able to produce scintillating one lap performances. His argument then would have been that it was the same for everyone.

I have been watching Motogp qualifying and it hasn't been nearly as exciting without the crazy qualifying tyres that allowed the qualifying specialists to suddenly jump up the grid towards the end of QP, requiring immediate responses from the previous leaders.

Racing at this stage is a show. If you want real racing, hard passes, crazy moves, then go and watch a local club/state/national race. At least we're not as contrived as F1 (yet)

Total votes: 78

I'd say leave it as is for the season. It's definitely added some excitement and given fans something to stick around for late Saturday afternoons.

Total votes: 91

I agree with cejay and tttom. It's still too early to say if the new SP format is overall good or bad. Just give it more time, and like what Krp says, eventually the teams will come to grip with a systematic strategy going about this new SP. Making quick changes to solve interim "might be" problems is just like MotoGP, and will cause more problems.

So far, lots of new surprises had been kicked up, even Haga was one of them not making it to the 3rd SP session, which I feel makes the whole world see his worth that he's a great rider, not just anyone on a factory Duck.

Total votes: 77

I don't see any problem at all with the new system other then one Team Manager crying about it. Just leave it alone, it seems to work ok so far.

Total votes: 86

I think the whole new Superpole system is ridiculous. The racing is on Sunday, Friday and Saturday are for setting up the bikes and qualifying. The idea of two qualifiers for three stages makes the already bad idea of a three-stage superpole even sillier. Like already mentioned above, if you want to look at a game of chance, watch poker shows. And apart from that, who came up with the idea of three extra sprintraces in a time where everybody is talking about reducing costs? It's not even fun to watch as there are no actual fights on the track. Best solution? Skip it completely.

Total votes: 77

As before, at this level it's a spectator sport. The only reason the bikes are there is to showcase both their sponsors and the technical capacity of the tuner/manufacturer. Therefore there needs to be an element of show. Remove the show and all you have is the riders finishing line astern in the order that they started.

I don't see the problem with the new SP. It works well, shakes things up a little and is the identical situation for all riders. If you are genuinely quick, use one of your tyres in Q1, get through to Q2 and then work out how to get into Q3. Or if you have real pace, save them for Q2 and Q3.

Qualifying is all about qualifying. Free practice is about setup. Getting a setup that will work with your qualifying is an essential part of the process.

Total votes: 80