(I started writing about something else and found what was meant to be a short aside on pre-qualification rapidly expanded into what I have now decided to make a separate entry.)
Most will be aware there used to be pre-qualification in the late ‘eighties into the early ‘nineties. It was a time when there were more than the thirty cars permitted to practise and attempt qualification. Thus a one-hour pre-session would be held, probably late Thursday afternoon, when some teams had to pre-qualify at least one driver or pack up and go home. According to an unconfirmed source, teams exempt from pre-qualification were those that had finished top-thirteen in either of the two previous half-seasons, another source says it was based on the last half-season. Some smaller teams only running one car would avoid the former stipulation creating thirty exemptions, but towards the end of this period one-car teams were banned. Certainly, it could be very harsh with, for example, most races in 1990 having six drivers chasing a single place in the last thirty.
The very first pre-qualification was at the 1965 South Africa Grand Prix. The country had its own domestic F1 series so a crowd of local racers turned up with a variety of out-of-date machinery. Three drivers DNPQed, the dishonour for being the first to do so shared between Clive Puzey from Rhodesia, and South Africans, Jackie Pretorius and Dave Charlton.
In not dissimilar fashion, there used to be a British F1 series, and a bunch of them turned up for the 1976 British GP. That year, excess entrants were not allowed to compete, but the 1977 British GP featured six of these drivers not pre-qualifying.
The next round to feature pre-qualification was the fourth in 1978 at Long Beach, California, with four drivers, including future World Champion, Keke Rosberg, finding themselves with a free weekend. Most the following races that season saw DNPQs. In a period when less drivers were allowed to practise and start at Monaco, pre-qualifying featured there in ’79 and ’81. It returned again for a few races in 1982, and just for Monaco in 1983.
The phenomenon reared again for Brazil 1988, with one driver making an early exit in all but three races that season but that was just a warm up. Thirty eight drivers arrived with seats for the first round of 1989 in Jacarepaguá, Brazil, with eight proved to have wasted their air-fare before proper practice began. The rest of the season, thirty-nine drivers with nine DNPQs was the norm, except Portugal with only eight. Aguri Suzuki (later owner of Super Aguri) managed to not pre-qualify his Zakspeed in all sixteen races.
Things settled for 1990 with the field down to thirty-five, and with Onyx quitting after ten events, followed by EuroBrun and single-car team Life dropping out of F1, pre-qualifying in the last two races was unnecessary. 1991 saw 34 entries for most races down to 32 by the last with all needing early pruning. 1992 started with thirty in the field, with Andrea Moda joining the fray by the third race necessitating DNPQ exclusions when the team managed to field cars. The Brabham team was only able to field one car in Hungary, Damon Hill finishing eleventh for what proved to be the marque’s last stand, with his good friend, Perry McCarthy, recording the last ever DNPQ. McCarthy was fielded by Andrea Moda because they had to have two cars when the team could barely run one (his team-mate, Roberto Moreno, with their backing only made it out of pre-qualifying one time in seven attempts). They once sent Perry out with 45 seconds of pre-qualification remaining, another occasion with wet tyres on a drying track. I strongly advise reading his book, Flat Out and Broke, and following the link at the bottom of this entry to F1 Rejects as they have produced an excellent account of his trials that makes my writing more about his amazing story redundant.
Andrea Moda were out of F1 after Belgium as the team-owner had been arrested for fraud. The Fondmetal team abandoned having run out of funds a race later, so for the last three races of ’92 there were only 26 runners and everyone qualified. In 1993, they restricted starters to 25 so one car would fail to qualify. I think there is some argument for bringing that back; it would certainly make Q1 more interesting.
This table is for the seasons involving pre-qualification.
Below are the drivers that experienced not pre-qualifying. NQ means never qualified for GP, and NPQ is for drivers that never pre-qualified and always had to.
|Eric van de Poole||BEL||7|
|Emillio de Villota||SPA||3|
|Bernard de Dryver||BEL||1||NQ|
|Andrea de Cesaris||ITA||1|
Gabriele Tarquini did not pre-qualify 18 times for AGS across three seasons, ’89, ’90 and ’91. He failed to qualify thirteen times additionally with the team, but did start 15 races for AGS with one point-scoring sixth place.
These are the teams that suffered non-pre-qualification woes. CC means all were customer-car DNPQs.
|Life||13||Never went beyond pre-qualification|
|March||9||3 were customer cars|
|Surtees||2||1 was a customer car|
|McGuire||1||Modified customer Williams|
Coloni entered one car in two races in 1987, returning a DNQ and retirement. In the 16 races of ’88, they collected their first six DNPQs, two DNQs, four retirements, and a best finish of eighth. Just getting into their stride, with two cars the season after, they were able to gain 22 DNPQs, along with five DNQs and five retirements. Back to one car, 1990 started with ten DNPQs and finished with six DNQs. In ’91, they missed Spain but DNPQed the other fifteen. Having not started a race in over two years, and not having finished one in over three, they left F1.
EuroBrun picked up a few DNPQs in ’88, in which they managed a best finish of eleventh. 1989, they reduced to one car and did not qualify at the first event in Brazil, and did not pre-qualify for the remaining fifteen. Undeterred, they expanded to two cars the season after, with Roberto Moreno managing 13th in the first round. His best result in the next five races was one retirement. He followed up with eight DNPQs, whilst team-mate, Claudio Langes, failed to pre-qualify once in the fourteen races before EuroBrun quit.
Zakspeed in their last year, 1989, collected 30 DNPQs and two retirements. In better times, they once had a point-scoring finish, courtesy of Martin Brundle finishing fifth at the San Marino GP in 1987.
Life is the subject I initially planned to write about before being distracted into pre-qualification, so more about them in the next post.